La Feuille Blanche

My mind has been uneasy of late. Everywhere I see, there are Words and More Words. Gestures, not actions. Critiques, not compositions. In desperation, if only to assure myself that I can do more than just spout sentimental words, I search for facts. I devour lessons on pituitary glands, watch documentaries on flightless birds and meticulously learn unrelated words from dictionaries of various languages. And ironically, in this quest, I stumble upon “La Feuille Blanche”, a poem so perfect that I have to break my self-imposed exile from the forbidden land. The wave of words cascade into my ears. Like an addict, my starved mind fondles the perfect imagery. Self restraint thrown to the winds, I greedily gorge on Paul Valéry’s poem.

Listen to the poem (starts at 2m35s) while your eyes scan the french lines. Fight the impulse to understand each and every word but simply take it in, whilst your mind unconsciously translates bits and pieces. For understood words are trite, half-understood words open up worlds of possibilities.

La feuille blanche

En vérité, une feuille blanche
Nous déclare par le vide
Qu’il n’est rien de si beau
Que ce qui n’existe pas.
Sur le miroir magique de sa blanche étendue,
L’âme voit devant elle le lieu des miracles
Que l’on ferait naître avec des signes et des lignes.
Cette présence d’absence surexcite
Et paralyse à la fois l’acte sans retour de la plume.
Il y a dans toute beauté une interdiction de toucher,
Il en émane je ne sais quoi de sacré
Qui suspend le geste, et fait l’homme
Sur le point d’agir se craindre soi-même.

Now read a translation. Probably not the perfect one. But it is enough.

The Blank Sheet

In truth, a blank sheet
Declares by the void
That there is nothing as beautiful
As that which does not exist.
On the magic mirror of its white space,
The soul sees before her the place of the miracles
That we would bring to life with signs and lines.
This presence of absence over-excites
And at the same time paralyses the definitive act of the pen.
There is in all beauty a forbiddance to touch,
From which emanates I don’t know what of sacred
That stops the movement and puts the man
On the point of acting in fear of himself.

Now read the french poem again and experience the magic !

Interestingly, the biography of the poet is very interesting, especially this snippet.

“In 1892 while visiting relatives in Genoa, Valéry underwent a stark personal transformation. During a violent thunderstorm, he determined that he must free himself “at no matter what cost, from those falsehoods: literature and sentiment.” He devoted the next twenty years to studying mathematics, philosophy, and language. From 1892 until 1912, he wrote no poetry.”
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2 Comments on “La Feuille Blanche”


  1. I much enjoy this poem. The French and English versions, both. Do you know where it was first published in French? My searchers turn up very little. Thanks

  2. ideallaedi Says:

    I’m not sure myself. It is certainly featured in “Charms and Other Pieces” (http://www.amazon.com/Charms-Pieces-English-French-Edition/dp/0856463981)

    The poet is Paul Valery and I guess this poem might have appeared in his original book “Charmes”.


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