Six poems from Charms by Paul Valéry
Written by Paul Valéry
Translated from the French by Nathaniel Rudavsky-Brody
The SylphUnseen unknown
I am perfume
Born on the wind,
Genius or chance?
No sooner come
The task is done!
The finest minds
Will stumble there!
Glimpse of a breast
Through loosened shirts!
The Faux DeathHumble, tender, against the charming tomb,
That out of shadows, leavings, offered love
Conjures your weary grace,
I fall, dying against you, dying — Yet,
No sooner fallen across the low grave
Whose lawn littered with ashes summons me,
Life reawakens in her seeming death;
She shakes, reopens lambent eyes, and bites,
And wrenches from my chest still other deaths
Dearer than life.
Lost WineOne day I tossed into the Ocean
(I don’t recall under what skies)
A kind of offering to the void,
A whole remnant of precious wine…
Who willed your loss, Oh alcohol?
Perhaps the heavens led my hand?
Perhaps my heart’s preoccupation,
Dreaming of blood, spilling wine?
There was a brief effusion of rosy
Smoke, and then the sea became
Transparent, as it was before…
The wine lost… the waves drunk!
I saw extraordinary figures
Leaping across the bitter air…
The BeeHowever keen may be your sting,
However fatal, yellow bee,
Over my basket I have draped
The merest dream of floating lace.
So prick that swelling gourd, my breast
Where Love is sleeping, or has died.
A little of myself will rise
Scarlet to plump, rebellious flesh!
A sudden pang is what I need:
A pain that quickens and is gone
I’d rather than this slumbering grief.
Illuminate my senses with
Your microscopic gold alarm
Without which Love slumbers or dies!
InsinuationOh curves that meander
As a secret lie,
Is not this slowness
The tenderest art?
I know where I’m going,
I’ll take you there,
My dark intentions
Mean you no harm…
(Although she smiles
With blooming pride,
So much freedom
Oh curves that meander
As a secret lie,
I’ll make you wait
For the tenderest word
The GirdleWhen, blushing as a cheek, the sky
At last admits the reverent eyes
And time, tipped towards a golden death,
Plays a while among the roses,
A Shadow, loosely girdled, dances
Against the quiet of delight
That such a picture has inspired,
The evening snatching at her hem.
This girdle, floating freely on
The rise and fall of the wind’s breath,
Riffles the single filament
That ties my silence to this world.
Absent, present… I am truly
Alone in shadow, luring shroud.