In the shadow of the blaze
Of his grace informed with dread,
An angel on my table lays
A bowl of milk, a loaf of bread;
And in his eyes reveals to me
The signal of a sacred plea
That speaks to my inner sight:
—Calm, calm, O stay calm!
Think how the heavy palm
Carries all her breadth and height!
In such measure as she may yield
To world’s abundant benefits,
Her bodily form becomes fulfilled,
Her fruitfulness her bondage is.
Oh, admirable! that vibrant head!
How she, like slow fibre-thread
Partitioning its time of growth,
Divides without let or halt
The burden of the starry vault,
The fascination of the earth!
Beautiful, moving arbiter
Between the shadow and the sun,
She simulates the sybil, her
Sleep and sagacity in one.
The same place all surrounding,
The full-blown palm accepts the abounding
Salutations and farewells …
What noble, what tender states!
With what good warrant she awaits
None but the god’s sap in her cells!
The slight gold that is her murmur
Rings to the finger of the air,
And with plates of silken armor
Dresses the desert’s soul for fair.
And the voice, time out of mind,
She gives back to the sandy wind
That sprinkles her with all its grain,
Becomes its own self’s oracle,
And boasts about the miracle
Chanted by self-consuming pain.
Thus, innocent, as she reclines
Between the sky and desert floor,
Every further day that shines
Accumulates her honey store.
Her sweetness is the piecemeal ration
Of all that divine duration
Which keeps no day-book of the days,
But dissembles them instead
In a juice that brings to a head
All love’s aroma, all love’s ways.
If that discipline, your cult,
From time to time, thawed in despair,
In spite of all your tears default
—Save in boredom’s darkened air
Yet no miser is that wise
Tree that makes and multiplies
Such gold profusion with such sway:
Through the ceremonial sap
To its fulfillment rises up
Hope that is of eternity!
These days that seem vain, all vain,
For all the universe, all lost,
Have roots that with their might and main
Labor through the sandy waste.
Substance, tough like hair created,
By dark chaos designated,
Never can its course prevent
To earth’s very entrails, but
Those deep waters searches out
Which the lofty summits want.
Patience, patience be
In the blue vaults of the sky!
In each mote of silence see
The chance of its own ripeness lie!
Expect the fortunate surprise:
A dove, a light wind to rise,
The slightest variance from ease,
A woman leaning, the least strain,
Will release that blessed rain
In which we fall upon our knees!
Though a nation now collapse,
O Palm! …nor hope to rise again!
But down into the dust lapse
Among the shorn empyrean!
You have not lost this day and hour,
If you survive in buoyant flower
The negligence to which you bowed;
Like the man of thought whose soul
Consumes itself in growing whole
From gifts with which it is endowed!
By Paul Valéry, translated by Denis Devlin, from SELECTED WRITINGS OF PAUL VALERY, copyright ©1950 by New Directions Publishing Corp. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.