Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE CEMETERY BY THE SEA, by PAUL VALERY



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THE CEMETERY BY THE SEA, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: This tranquil roof, with walking pigeons, loom
Last Line: This tranquil roof where jib-sails peck in flocks!
Subject(s): Cemeteries; Death; Life Choices; Religion; Passion


This tranquil roof, with walking pigeons, looms
Trembling between the pines, among the tombs;
Precise midday the sea from fire composes --
The sea, the sea, forever rebegun!
What recompense after a thought is one
Look on the calm of gods the sea disposes!

Pure energies of lightning-flash consume
What diamond of evanescent spume!
And how is peace conceived in this pure air!
When the sun rests at noon above the abyss,
Pure work of an eternal cause is this,
And dream is knowledge, here in trembling air.

Temple unto Athena, quiet curve,
Ponderous calm and visible reserve,
Enchanting water, sleeping eye, aloof
Beneath a flaming veil, enduring bowl,
O silence! Like a tower within the soul,
But summit of a thousand gold tiles, Roof!

Temple of Time that one sight may resume,
I climb this point and habitude assume,
Surrounded by the sea's enclosing sight.
As though an altar flamed and smoke arose,
My offering, the scintillation sows
A sovereign disdain along the height.

And as the hungry mouth obscures the fresh
Contour of fruit, translating thus its flesh
Into enjoyment, which the form abhors,
My future I inhale, in smoke unbound;
And to the soul consumed the heavens sound
The hollow alteration of seashores.

Fair sky, true sky, consider how I change!
After so much of pride, so much of strange
Indolence, yet full of power, unspent,
I abandon myself to this bright space,
Over the tombs my shadow runs its race,
Taming myself to its fragile movement.

My soul exposed to torches of the sun,
I can sustain you, just and forthright one,
Unerring light, pitilessly arrayed!
Pure to your primal place I have restored
You: comtemplate yourself! But light outpoured
Presumes one somber moiety of shade.

O for myself, within myself alone,
Near to the poem's source, against the bone,
Between the void and pure contingency,
I wait the echoing greatness from within,
Like some sonorous, bitter cistern's din,
Sounding some chasm in the soul to be.

Do you know, subtle prisoner of leaves,
Devourer of the grills the foliage weaves,
The shining mystery on my closed eyes,
What flesh impels me to its slothful end,
What forehead to this bony earth I bend?
A spark dreams of my absent loyalties.

Closed, sacred, filled with fire of nothing spun,
Terrestrial fragment offered to the sun,
This place by torches governed pleases me,
Composed of gold, of stone and somber glades,
Where so much marble trembles over shades;
Over the tombs there sleeps the faithful sea!

Resplendent bitch! Keep off the idolator,
While I with shepherd's smile lay out the store
Of earth for these, my white, mysterious sheep,
My tranquil tombs, the strange, white, herded things.
Vain dreams, and angels with inquiring wings,
And prudent pigeons at a distance keep!

Once here the future becomes idleness;
The clean insect scratches the aridness;
Everything burns and is undone, the sere
Grasses like fire invade the splitting wood . . .
Now drunk with absence, life's infinitude,
And bitterness is sweet and mind is clear.

The hidden dead are well within this clay
That warms them, burns their mystery away.
Midday above, high noontide without motion,
Thinks in itself and is its proper stem . . .
O complete head and perfect diadem,
I am in you the secret alteration.

You have but me to hold your fearful taint!
My penitence and doubt and my constraint
In your great diamond comprise the flaw! . . .
But in their night of marble-weighted cold,
A shadowy people of the rooted mold,
Slow, hesitating, to your party draw.

Into heavy absence they are blended,
White species unto the red clay descended;
The gift of life is passing to the flowers.
Where are the well-known phrases of the dead,
The personal art, the souls distinguished?
The source of tears the tracking worm devours.

Of flattered girls the eager, sharpened cries,
The moistened eyelids and the teeth and eyes,
The charming breasts that parley with the flame,
The shining blood at lips that pleasure rifts,
The fingers that defend the final gifts,
All go beneath the earth, rejoin the game.

Do you, great soul, still hope to find a dream
Without these colors of a lying scheme
That wave and gold display here to the eye?
When you are changed to breath, then will you sing?
My presence is porous! All is flying!
But holy eagerness must also die!

You, black and gold, gaunt immortality,
Death's head wreathed with the broken laurel tree,
Who say that where we end we but begin-
O lovely lie! O cunning, pious ruse!
Who does not know them-who does not refuse
The empty skull and the eternal grin!

Deep fathers, uninhabited heads, now dull,
Who, weighted by so many shovelsful,
Become the earth, and who confound our steps,
The gnawing and unanswerable worm's
Not yours, beneath the table. He confirms
My flesh, he lives on life, he keeps my steps.

What name I call him does not signify,
As love, or self-contempt; his tooth must pry,
Ever, so near my life no name him wrongs!
What matter! He can see, will, dream, and touch!
He likes my flesh, and even on my couch
My passing life to him, who lives, belongs.

Ah Zeno! Cruel Zeno of Elea!
Who pierce my body with your winged idea,
Arrow that flying denies motion's press!
The sound brings me to birth, the arrow slays!
Ah Sun! What shadow of a tortoise stays
The soul, Achilles running motionless!

No, no! . . . Arise and enter the next state!
This thoughtful pose, my body, dissipate!
Drink, my breast, of the wind, a rising bourn!
A freshness breathed from off the quickening sea
Gives back my soul . . . O salty potency!
I'll run to the wave and from it be reborn!

Yes! great sea with delirium endowed,
O torn chlamys and hide of panther proud,
With thousand thousand idols of the sun,
Absolute hydra, drunk with your blue flesh,
Who tail in mouth eternally enmesh
In turbulence that is with silence one,

The wind awakes! . . . I must presume to live!
The immense air in my book is tentative;
The wave dares spout in powder from the rocks!
Flee, dazzled pages! Chase time and the hour!
Break, waves, and shatter with exultant power
This tranquil roof where jib-sails peck in flocks!





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