1. The sail of doves this tranquil roof assumes
palpitates through pines trees and the tombs.
Imperturbable midday, of fire
and sea, the sea beginning each occasion
to bring such riches in from contemplation:
great settlements of calm the gods inspire.

2. How intricately the sea's surf disappoints
itself in unseen glitter of diamond points.
Peace seems self-conceived. Settling as though
into an abyss of emptiness the sun pours
out its artistry on an eternal cause.
Time's an instant, and Dreaming is to know.

3. That temple to Minerva's intelligence,
water's calmness, shows such reticence.
Proud-lidded depths and the Eye's reproof
that wells up from sleep beneath the flame.
And the silence, that makes my soul the same
under the myriad gold waves that slope this Roof.

4. Temple of Time, parsed to a single sigh.
To this accustomed and pure instant I
climb now with the sea around me, born
of this look, making supreme oblations,
but seeing in its peaceful scintillations
the sea sow on such altitudes a sovereign scorn.

5. As the fruit's taste is molded into pleasure,
and delight loses itself in its own measure
of absence in mouths where it is no more,
so I sense myself in the emanations
in a sky singing the soul's cremations,
dissolving in surf on that murmurous shore.

6. Look, beautiful heaven, true heaven, how I change,
after so much pride, so much strange
idleness, but even here, in my potency,
immolating myself in this bright space,
across the houses of the dead a trace
passes to plunge me into the shadowy.

7. Giving my soul to the sea's flare at solstice,
and therefore into that admirable justice
whose burning weapons are not by pity stayed,
I take on your purity, extending that bright
reflection of yourself, but the light
supposes my half still as a gloomy shade.

8. Ever for me, to and in myself alone:
out of that rapture is the poetry grown.
Between the emptiness and pure event,
I await the echo of that internal power,
that sonorous and dark, bitter reservoir
of nothingness ringing, to which the soul is bent.

9. Can you, feigned prisoner of this foliage, know
the boughs dissolving in this water's glow?
Around that dazzled secret, eyes are closed.
What body leads me to so loose an end
or forehead to the earth where bones are penned,
all these dead by the flickering light composed?

10. Earth's speck that's sacred, full of fire despite
being so insubstantial, and will offer light.
This place, occasioned by torches, pleases me.
The gold and stone and somber trees assume
a mass of marble trembling in the gloom,
and on my tombs, and faithful, sleeps the sea.

11. Keep off the idolaters, let sea meanwhile
reflect the solitary of poet's smile,
that I may pasture here my mysteries:
white-cluster round me, undisturbed, the graves,
and let the doves be prudent in safe conclaves,
the day dreams vain as angel deities.

12. Future's toil is elsewhere. In the soil about
the brittle insect scratches at the drought.
All summer in this desiccating wind
abstracts, I do not know how, to essences.
And life is vast, drunk on absences,
and bitterness is soft, and the mind thinned.

13. The dead are hidden well in this warm earth
where mysteries resunned give up their worth.
All the noon up there, unchanging blue:
the midday thinks and only suits itself,
and all around a head of brilliant wealth
which is the change, the secret change in you.

14. Only me you have to hold your faints,
my penitence and doubts, and my constraints
are broken facets in your crystal flare.
Where, under the marble, all night wait,
lost among tree roots in their wandering state,
a people already, who emerge to air.

15. Into a thickness otherways they melt,
an absent whiteness in the red clay's welt.
The gift of life is fled to flowers, the years
of frank familiarity in speech,
individual graciousness, the souls in each:
the grub pupates within the weft of tears.

16. Girl's shrieks, love's teasings in their eyes,
and teeth and eyelids spittled with their sighs,
the charming breast that bares and bids delay,
the blood that wets the lips that whisper yes,
the fingers fending off that feigned distress:
the earth resorbs them and returns to play.

17. And you, great soul, who hope to find some dream
beneath the colours that must shift and seem,
some sight the wave and gold will give in shades
of permanence although the flesh expires —
for self is porous and the world retires,
and the thirst for sainthood even fades.

18. How thin that immortality in gold
and black, the hideous laurels that we fold,
consoling death at some maternal breast.
A trick beautiful but also a pious lie:
who does not know that, would ever deny
the emptied skull goes laughing to its rest?

19. The ancestors, the uninhabited heads
lost under the shovel, where the earth spreads
in footsteps more than living may discern:
the rodent and the irrefutable worm
in those drunk under the table of life affirm
that life is food, as I too in my turn.

20. Are they loves, perhaps, or hates?
The tooth is intimate with me and waits
despite whatever name I fabricate.
It will see, want, think, touch, keep,
in daylight's consciousness or in my sleep,
repeating life will hold me to this state.

21. Zeno of Elea, cruel lies
your arrow pierces with, how fast it flies,
vibrating in the air but cannot move.
The sound gives birth to me, the arrow kills;
the sun the shadow of the speeding tortoise fills
as soul a swift Achilles cannot prove.

22. But no, I stand within the future's court
and break my body out of inward thought.
Drink, my breast, the birthing wind, and sing
of heightened freshness in that bursting sea:
a saltiness will salve the soul in me,
and waves return me as some living thing.

23. Sea, what great delirium we're in
with torn off chlamys and with panther skin.
The thousand thousand idols in the sun
drink the Hydra of your flesh, where the blue
tail returns the effective remorse in you
as silent commotion settling into one.

24. The wind rises. We must try to live. Look:
an immensity of air opens and shuts my book.
Waves shatter on the rocks. Break, with bright
glitterings with my pages flown away,
and rejoice, waves, falling into spray —
on this calm roof with sailcloths fretting light.

 

Le Cimetière marin by Paul Valéry

 

Now collected in a free ebook published by Ocaso Press.