Paul Valery

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Paul Valery
The grave of Paul Valéry on the Cimetière marin of Séte (Hérault).

Ambroise Paul Toussaint Jules Valéry (born October 30, 1871 in Sète , Département Hérault , † July 20, 1945 in Paris ) was a poet , philosopher and essayist .


After his childhood in the small southern French port town of Sète as the son of a senior civil servant, Valéry spent his youth in Montpellier , where he also studied law. He started writing poetry at an early age. In 1894 he went to Paris, where he met André Gide and above all Stéphane Mallarmé , who became his role model. In 1896/97 he worked for a press agency in London. In 1897 he got a job as an editor at the War Ministry, where among other things he did a longer study on the expanding German economy. He then worked briefly at the Agence Havas news agency . In the Dreyfus affair , in contrast to André Gide, he took a nationalist position and sided with the anti-Dreyfusards . This went so far that in December 1898 he agreed to support the widow of officer Hubert Henry , who committed suicide after his forgery of a document relating to the trial of Alfred Dreyfus was exposed. In 1900 he became the private secretary of a business tycoon until he was later able to live off his income as a freelance writer. In the same year he married Jeannie Gobillard, a niece of the painter Berthe Morisot . From this marriage the children Claude, Agathe and François emerged.

Around 1920 Valéry was considered the greatest French lyric poet of his time and was also highly regarded in the rest of intellectual Europe. In this year began his eight-year deep friendship and intellectual relationship with the poet Catherine Pozzi (1884–1934), whose diaries bear detailed testimony to this. In 1923 he was appointed Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur (i.e. Knight of the Legion of Honor ), in 1931 as Commander and in 1938 as Grand Officer. In 1925 he was accepted into the Académie française , of which he was temporarily president. In 1937 Valéry was awarded a well-endowed professorship for poetics at the Collège de France .

At the time of the occupation of France by German and Italian troops, Valéry refused to cooperate with the occupying powers. When he gave a commemorative address in the Sorbonne on January 9, 1941 in honor of the Jewish philosopher Henri Bergson , this text cost him his position as director of the Center Universitaire Méditerranéen by decree of the Vichy government.

After his death, Charles de Gaulle ordered a state funeral. According to his wishes, Valéry was buried in his hometown Sète on the Cimetière marin , which he had sung about in a poem. There is also a Valéry Museum in Sète, which actively looks after its memory through exhibitions and colloquia.

Valéry was probably the last author in France who could make a living with poetry. He had the status of a "poet prince" who was rewarded with well-paid commissioned work from publishers and magazines and was often invited to lectures and readings. After him, the poetry, which was so successful in France for a century, declined significantly.

Valéry was friends with Rainer Maria Rilke , the literary historian and writer Herbert Steiner, and the painter Marie Elisabeth Wrede , who captured his portrait in a representative drypoint.


The lyric work

In his first and later life, Valéry wrote mainly verse and prose poems. With these he was initially close to the symbolists . Later, after a lengthy creative crisis, he strived for a “ pure poetry ” ( poésie pure ) that tries to unite intellectual precision and formal perfection by renouncing the representation of feelings or external realities. Narcissus and the poem La jeune Parque ( The Young Parze ) in 1917, which was translated into German by Paul Celan, became the symbol of this hermetic seal .

Other lyrical main works are L'Album de vers anciens ( Album of old verses ) and the collection of poems Charmes (1922, German "Zauber" or "Verauberungen"), which was translated into German by Rainer Maria Rilke in 1925 . The latter contains, among other things, the famous poem Le Cimetière marin ( The Cemetery by the Sea , 1920), which describes the cemetery of his birthplace Sète (where he was later buried) and which triggered a wave of similarly extensive long poems not only in France.

The poem Le Cimetière marin has been translated into German five times, Les grenades six times.

The philosophical work

Valéry has written numerous essays on political, cultural, literary theory, literary criticism and history as well as aesthetic and philosophical topics. He is considered an important French philosophical author of the 20th century. His idiosyncratic works are variations on the tension between the desire for contemplation and the will to act: he contrasts the infinite possibilities of the intellect with the inevitable imperfections of action. In his essays on the figure Leonardo da Vinci (1894, 1919 and 1929) idealized and radically abstracted by him , ultimately a thought creature of Valéry, in whose thinking he partially recognizes himself, he succeeds in gaining profound insights into the purposeless, free-flowing, but precise Synthetic-constructive thinking, the visual imagination that exceeds the reach of words, the intellectual and artistic production compulsion and the nature of fantastic ideas that transcend the horizon of experience or even "fixed ideas", i.e. rigorous and persistent thinking (French rigueur obstiné , ital. hostinato rigore ), which, unlike scientific thinking, leads to results of unknown probability.

In addition to the Leonardo essays and his Narcissus reception, the fictional character Monsieur Teste (French: tête for "head" and Latin testis for "witness"), an observer and recorder of the world who is conscious of his intellect, has become known: " Stupidity is not my strength. ”German philosophers such as Karl Löwith , Th. W. Adorno , Walter Benjamin and Hans Blumenberg recognized the scope of his thinking about thinking.

Even more extensive than his philosophical writings printed during his lifetime are the posthumously published Cahiers (i.e. notebooks) in which Valéry wrote down thoughts and epistemological considerations day after day from 1894 to 1945. After the first edition of Cahier's 1894–1914 (Gallimard, Paris 1987–2016) was printed in 13 volumes, it was also published as an e-book . The continuation of the edition up to the last Cahier from 1945 is planned.


  • Jürgen Schmidt-Radefeldt (Ed.): Works . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1989 to 1995
  1. Poetry and prose . 1992 ISBN 3-458-16251-8 (co-editor: Karl Alfred Blüher )
  2. Dialogues and theater . 1990 ISBN 3-458-14372-6
  3. To literature. 1989 ISBN 3-458-14373-4
  4. To philosophy and science . 1989 ISBN 3-458-14374-2
  5. On the theory of poetry and mixed thoughts . 1991 ISBN 3-458-14371-8
  6. On the aesthetics and philosophy of the arts . 1995 ISBN 3-458-14387-4
  7. On contemporary history and politics . 1995 ISBN 3-458-16730-7
  • Cahiers / notebooks. Selection in 6 volumes (sorted by subject), ed. Hartmut Köhler , Jürgen Schmidt-Radefeldt for a team of translators. S. Fischer, Frankfurt 1987-1993
  • Vaudeville. (1.1924 - 4.1944)
  • La jeune parque. (1917)
  • Eupalinos ou l'architecte. (1921)
  • Charms. (1922)
  • Monsieur Teste. (1926)
    • Monsieur Teste. 2nd edition Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 2016 (excerpt from vol. 1 of the works ).
  • Mon fist. (fragmentary play)
  • Amphion . Mélodrame (ballet oratorio). Music (1929): Arthur Honegger . Premiere 1931
  • Sémiramis . Mélodrame (ballet oratorio). Music (1933/34): Arthur Honegger
  • Corona & Coronilla. Poèmes à Jean Voilier, Paris: Fallois 2008.


  • Research on Paul Valéry / Recherches valéryennes (Thematic Yearbook), ed . Karl Alfred Blüher, Jürgen Schmidt-Radefeldt. University of Kiel 1988 ff. ISSN  0934-5337 Online
  • Denis Bertholet : Paul Valéry. The biography. Translated by Bernd Schwibs, Achim Russer; Foreword by Jürgen Schmidt-Radefeldt. Insel-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2011, ISBN 978-3-458-17524-7 .
  • Maurice Blanchot : Valéry and Faust , in: Thomas Mann . Encounters with the demon . Ed., Translated by Marco Gutjahr, Turia + Kant , Vienna 2017 ISBN 978-3-85132-839-4 pp. 19–46
  • Karl Alfred Blüher : Strategy of the Mind. Paul Valéry's fist. Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main 1960
  • Hans Blumenberg : language situation and immanent poetics. In: Realities We Live In . Reclam, Stuttgart 1981 ISBN 3-15-007715-X
  • Claudia Burghardt: Paul Valéry's view of modern man. Experiment of a new philosophy . Franck & Thimme, Berlin 2013.
  • Michel Jarrety: Paul Valéry. Fayard, Paris 2008
  • Hartmut Köhler : Paul Valéry. Poetry and Knowledge. The lyric work in the light of the diaries. Bouvier, Bonn 1976 ISBN 3-416-01301-8
  • Karin Krauthausen: About things, leftovers and finding skills with Paul Valéry. In: Friedrich Balke, Maria Muhle, Antonia von Schöning (ed.): The return of things. Kadmos, Berlin 2011 ISBN 978-3-86599-146-1 pp. 151-173
  • Huguette Laurenti: Valéry et le théatre. Gallimard, Paris 1973.
  • Karl Löwith : Paul Valéry. Basics of his philosophical thinking. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1971 ISBN 3-525-33305-6 (digitized version)
  • Benoît Peeters : Valéry. Tenter de vivre. Flammarion, Paris 2014 ISBN 978-2-08-125955-3
  • Catherine Pozzi: “Paul Valéry - happiness, demon, crazy” diary 1920–1928 . Insel, Frankfurt am Main and Leipzig 1995.
  • Franz Rauhut : Paul Valéry. Spirit and myth . Hueber, Munich 1930
  • Erich von Richthofen : Further source material on Valéry's 'Mon Faust' . In: German-French Institute Ludwigsburg (ed.): Germany - France. Ludwigsburg Contributions to the Problem of Franco-German Relations , Vol. 2 (= publications of the German-French Institute Ludwigsburg eV Volume 2), Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart 1957, pp. 206-209.
  • Judith Robinson-Valéry (ed.): Functions of the mind. Paul Valéry and the Sciences. Campus, Frankfurt am Main 1993, ISBN 2-7351-0548-2
  • Jürgen Schmidt-Radefeldt : Paul Valéry, linguiste dans les "Cahiers" . Klincksieck, Paris 1970
  • Jürgen Schmidt-Radefeldt (Ed.): Paul Valéry. Philosophy of Politics, Science and Culture. Stauffenburg, Tübingen 1999 ISBN 3-86057-079-X
  • Rolf Strube: From the music of ideas. Paul Valéry - poet, philosopher, European. Sinn und Form , 3, 2011, pp. 403-413 reading sample
  • Ralph-Rainer Wuthenow : Paul Valéry for an introduction. Edition Junius, Hamburg 1997 ISBN 3-88506-959-8
  • Journal of Cultural Philosophy. 1, 2012, focus on Valéry. Contributions by Jean Starobinski , Jean Michel Rey, Karin Krauthausen, Jürgen Schmidt-Radefeldt, Gérard Raulet and Gerhard Gamm. Meiner, Hamburg 2012 ISSN  0939-5512

Web links

Commons : Paul Valéry  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


  1. De la pertante impertinence des intellectuels , Peter Fröhlicher in: Actes Sémiotiques 2013, No. 116
  2. ^ Portrait-Collection Museum Europäische Kunst , May 30, 2014.
  3. ^ Robert Donald Davidson Gibson: Paul Valéry . Encyclopædia Britannica, October 26, 2018.
  4. ^ A reproach by Michelangelo and the title of another work by Paul Valery: The obsession or two men in the snow. Library Suhrkamp 155. Frankfurt 1965.
  5. ^ Glenn S. Burne: An Approach to Valéry's Leonardo. In: The French Review. Vol. 34, No. 1 (1960), pp. 26-34.
  6. The night of Genoa at the end of art. In: FAZ. August 25, 2010, p. N3.
  7. This is the first sentence of his Herr Teste. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1965, p. 15.