Quotations by Valéry, Paul


In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished — a word that for them has no sense — but abandoned; and this abandonment, whether to the flames or to the public (and which is the result of weariness or an obligation to deliver) is a kind of an accident to them, like the breaking off of a reflection, which fatigue, irritation, or something similar has made worthless.

[Aux yeux de ces amateurs d’inquiétude et de perfection, un ouvrage n’est jamais achevé, – mot qui pour eux n’a aucun sens, – mais abandonné ; et cet abandon, qui le livre aux flammes ou au public (et qu’il soit l’effet de la lassitude ou de l’obligation de livrer) est une sorte d’accident, comparable à la rupture d’une réflexion, que la fatigue, le fâcheux ou quelque sensation viennent rendre nulle.]

Paul Valéry (1871-1945) French poet, critic, author, polymath
“Au sujet du ‘Cimetière marin,'” La Nouvelle Revue Française (Mar 1933)
    (Source)

Often rendered as: "A poem is never finished, only abandoned."

Alt. trans.: "In the eyes of those who anxiously seek perfection, a work is never truly completed -- a word that for them has no sense -- but abandoned; and this abandonment, of the book to the fire or to the public, whether due to weariness or to a need to deliver it for publication, is a sort of accident, comparable to the letting-go of an idea that has become so tiring or annoying that one has lost all interest in it." [tr. Maggio]

In the same vein, in "Recollections," Valery wrote: "A work is never completed except by some accident such as weariness, satisfaction, the need to deliver, or death: for, in relation to who or what is making it, it can only be one stage in a series of inner transformations."

Also attributed to W. H. Auden, Oscar Wilde, and Jean Cocteau, For more discussion of the origin of this phrase, see here.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 25-Mar-19
Link to this post | No comments
Topics: , , , , , , , ,
More quotes by Valéry, Paul

God created man and, finding him not sufficiently alone, gave him a companion to make him feel his solitude more keenly.

Paul Valéry (1871-1945) French poet, critic, author, polymath
“Moralités” (1932), Tel Quel 1 (1941)
Added on 18-May-20 | Last updated 18-May-20
Link to this post | No comments
Topics: , , , , , ,
More quotes by Valéry, Paul

How many people are killed in accidents because of not wanting to let go of their umbrellas!

Paul Valéry (1871-1945) French poet, critic, author, polymath
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Valéry, Paul

What others think of us would be of little moment did it not, when known, so deeply tinge what we think of ourselves.

Paul Valéry (1871-1945) French poet, critic, author, polymath
(Attributed)
Added on 12-Jul-07 | Last updated 12-Jul-07
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Valéry, Paul

The folly of mistaking a paradox for a discovery, a metaphor for a proof, a torrent of verbiage for a spring of capital truths, and oneself for an oracle, is inborn in us.

Paul Valéry (1871-1945) French poet, critic, author, polymath
Introduction to the Method of Leonardo da Vinci (1895)
Added on 8-Sep-09 | Last updated 19-Jan-16
Link to this post | No comments
Topics: , , , , ,
More quotes by Valéry, Paul

The painter should not paint what he sees, but what will be seen.

Paul Valéry (1871-1945) French poet, critic, author, polymath
Mauvaises Pensées et Autres (1941)
Added on 11-Jun-12 | Last updated 11-Jun-12
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Valéry, Paul

They did not seem in the least to suspect that our judgments judge us, and that nothing reveals us, exposes our weaknesses more ingenuously than the attitude ofpronouncing upon our fellows.

Paul Valéry (1871-1945) French poet, critic, author, polymath
Monsieur Teste (1919)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 7-Jun-12
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Valéry, Paul

Stupidity is not my strong suit.

Paul Valéry (1871-1945) French poet, critic, author, polymath
Monsieur Teste (1919)
Added on 14-Jun-12 | Last updated 14-Jun-12
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Valéry, Paul

Books have the same enemies as poeple: fire, humidity, animals, weather, and their own content.

[Les livres ont les mêmes ennemis comme les gens : le feu, l’humidité, les animaux, le temps, et leur propre contenu.] 

Paul Valéry (1871-1945) French poet, critic, author, polymath
Œuvres II, “Moralités” (1941)
Added on 22-Jun-09 | Last updated 22-Jun-09
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Valéry, Paul

Si l’Etat est fort, il nous ecrase, s’il est faible, nous perissons.

[If the state is strong, it crushes us. If it is weak, we perish.]

Paul Valéry (1871-1945) French poet, critic, author, polymath
Reflections on the World Today [Regards sur le monde actuel], “Fluctuations sur la liberté” (1931)

Alt trans.:

  • "If power is too strong, it overwhelms us, if it is too weak, we perish."
  • "If the state is strong, we are annihilated; if it is weak, we perish."
  • "When the state is strong it will crush us, when it is weak, we perish."
Added on 13-Jun-12 | Last updated 14-Jun-12
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Valéry, Paul