Hai-Kai “From the Notebooks, 1922-1945”

Paul Valéry
Translated from the French by Nathaniel Rudavsky-Brody

Hai-KaiI was waiting for who knows whom? (You? or day—or—)A thought came.AnotherThe mountain seems to be waiting for something;The living water, to be running after something;The sun, to be slowly seeking step by stepThe point from which It will see something.AnotherSuddenly the moon breaks throughThe murkiness of eveningAs a curious woman in a crowdFinds herself in the front row.                                                                                Untitled notebook [XIX, 910], 1937

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photo of Paul Valery
Photo:
Bibliotheque nationale de France / Agence Rol

One of the major figures of twentieth-century French literature, Paul Valéry was born in 1871. After a promising debut as a young symbolist in Mallarmé’s circle, Valéry withdrew from public view for almost twenty years, and was almost forgotten by 1917 when the publication of the long poem La Jeune Parque made him an instant celebrity. He was best known in his day for his small output of highly polished lyric poetry, and posthumously for the 27,000 pages of his Notebooks. He died in 1945.

Nathaniel Rudavsky-Brody was born in Columbus, Ohio. He has translated the work of French and Belgian poets, including Benjamin Fondane, for which he was awarded the Susan Sontag Prize for Translation. He is the author of two volumes of poetry in French and one in English, and has worked as a typesetter, a programmer, and a private tutor.

"Amazing modernist work . . . Rudavsky-Brody’s translations . . . are patient, thoughtful and often imaginative."
—Michael Wood, London Review of Books

"The passages from the notebooks were a revelation . . . A fascinating introduction to a major poet in his selection of work."
—Edmund Prestwich, The Manchester Review

"Taken together, the prose and verse configure Valéry as a writer and thinker tipped into the new century, which picked up speed with Futurism and Dada . . . Valéry was a poet who came close to neoclassical perfection, as well as a modern thinker who understood how elusive perfection would always remain."
—Allan Graubard, Los Angeles Review of Books

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