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This report is taken from PN Review 150, Volume 29 Number 4, March - April 2003.

The Double Echo Lawrence Sail

In `Poésie et pensée abstraitée', one of the pieces collected under the title Théorie poétique et esthétique, Paul Valéry distinguishes between prose and poetry by characterising the former as walking and the latter as dancing. While walking is undertaken with a specific goal in mind, dancing is an end in itself and aims at the pleasures of movement and rhythm. All that the two modes have in common is language, and they deploy it very differently. Above all, suggests Valéry, poetry is language built to last. He illustrates his point by asking the reader to imagine a pendulum swinging symmetrically between two points. One of these points represents form, sound, accent timbre - the voice in action: the other, images, sense, ideas, feelings - our capacity for understanding. Whereas in prose the balance between these two points is unequal, in poetry the pendulum moves equally from one to the other and back again: `entre la Voix et la Pensée, entre la Pensée et la Voix, entre la Présence et l'Absence, oscille le pendule poétique' (`between Voice and Thought, between Presence and Absence, swings the poetic pendulum'). He concludes that the value of a poem resides in the indissolubility of sound and sense: though they are discrete elements, the poet's task is `de nous donner la sensation de l'union intime entre la parole et l'esprit' (to give us the feeling of the intimate connection between the spoken word and the mind'). Elsewhere, Valéry urges the poet to make the most ...


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