Summer 1957 • Vol. XIX No. 3 NonfictionJuly 1, 1957 |

The Existence of Symbolism

Paul Valery THE EXISTENCE OF SYMBOLISM (Translated by Malcolm Cowley) THE MERE NAME of Symbolism is already an enigma for many, as if it had been chosen expressly to make them torment their minds. I have known persons who attributed an imaginary depth to the little word symbol; they meditated on it day after day in the hope of defining its mysterious resonance. But a word is a bottomless pit. Those without literary training are not the only ones to be puzzled by these innocent syllables. Scholars, artists, and philos- ophers have sometimes revealed the same embarrassment. As for the men who were given and still bear the proud title of "Sym- bolists"-the men of whom one necessarily thinks in discussing Symbolism, whose lives and works would provide the clearest possible notion of Symbolism-they never adopted the name for themselves, and never used or abused it as people came to do in the time that followed their time. It must be confessed that I too have tried to define the term (and

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