Valéry’s return to reality
Stephane Mallarme’s ideas did indeed have an effect out of all proportion to the small volume of work he produced. He exercised his influence in particular through his celebrated ‘mardis’, the Tuesday evening meetings which were attended not only by many of the established authors of the day but also by younger writers, among whom Paul Valery shared that sense of dissatisfaction with reality common to all the Symbolist poets. In various ways all the poems in Charmes which Valery wrote between 1917 and 1922 are concerned with the complex problem of the relationship between mind and body and with the contribution that both must make to the creative process. In a sense the entire volume is a kind of ‘art poetique’ in that, although the poems are, of course, poems in their own right – and some of them are among the finest in French literature – they are also poems about writing poetry.