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This review is taken from PN Review 185, Volume 35 Number 3, January - February 2009.

TRANSLATOR'S GRAVEYARD PAUL VALÉRY, Charms & Other Pieces, A bilingual edition translated and introduced by Peter Dale (Anvil Press) £11.95

Paul Valéry's Charmes is one of the key works in early twentieth-century European poetry, comparable in significance and achievement to Rilke's Duino Elegies, Eliot's The Waste Land, Stevens's Harmonium, MacDiarmid's A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle and Yeats's The Tower. Peter Dale's book is the first attempt, in recent times, to offer a poetic translation of the whole volume, although there are a number of distinguished versions of individual poems. As Dale points out in his intro­duction, Valéry began his poetic career as a disciple of Mallarmé, dedicated to the idea of a pure poetry. But between the publication of his early work in the 1890s and of La Jeune Parque (1917) and Charmes (1922) he had transformed himself by an effort of intellectual labour and self-conscious critical revaluation into a poet of modern consciousness. He is a bridge between symbolism and modernism, between the Mallarméan preoccupation with perfection of form and the modernist recognition of the flux of experience and identity. He is not, like Eliot, a poet of the squalor of the urban nor, like Yeats, of the mire of politics and the foul rag and bone shop of the heart; but the tension between art and experience both defines his aesthetic and becomes one of his major themes. Charmes is the summation of his response and his resolution of the problem that is at once existential and philosophical.

Although influenced by and a contributor to modernist thought and perspectives, Valéry was also traditional ...


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