Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Paul Valéry, fully Ambroise-Paul-Toussaint-Jules Valéry

French Poet, Critic, Essayist and Philosopher

"All nations have present, or past, or future reasons for thinking themselves incomparable."

"Consciousness reigns but doesn't govern."

"A man is infinitely more complicated than his thoughts."

"Growing nations should remember that, in nature, no tree, though placed in the best conditions of light, soil, and plot, can continue to grow and spread indefinitely."

"Every beginning is a consequence - every beginning ends something."

"History is the science of what never happens twice."

"Having precise ideas often leads to a man doing nothing."

"Our most important thoughts are those which contradict our emotions."

"It must be admitted that liberty is the hardest test that one can inflict on a people. To know how to be free is not given equally to all men and all nations."

"The body has its end which it does not know; the mind its means of which it is unaware."

"The diploma gives society a phantom guarantee and its holders phantom rights. The holder of a diploma passes officially for possessing knowledge... comes to believe tht society owes him something. Never has a convention been created which is more unfortunate, for every one - the state, the individual (and, in particular, culture)."

"Every enthusiast contains a false enthusiast, every lover a false lover, every man of genius a false man of genius, and, as a rule, every fault its counterfeit: this is necessary in order to assure the continuity of one's personality, not only in the eyes of others but in one's own - in order to understand oneself, count upon oneself, think of oneself; in order, in short, to be oneself."

"Mind has transformed the world, and the world is repaying it with interest. It has led man where he had no idea how to go."

"The history of thought can be summarized in these words: It is absurd by what it seeks, great by what it finds."

"The only treaties that ought to count are those which would effect a settlement between ulterior motives."

"The only truths which are universal are those gross enough to be thought so. "

"The majority of those who flatter themselves on their knowledge of the human heart do not separate their boasted insight from their unfavorable feeling about humanity... Nothing indeed imparts a psychological air so much as an habitual attitude of depreciation."

"To know oneself is not necessarily to improve oneself."

"A very dangerous state of mind: thinking one understands."

"A man who wishes to impose his opinions on others is unsure of their value. He has to uphold them by all possible means. He adopts a special tone of voice, thumps the table, smiles on some and browbeats others. In short, he borrows from his body the wherewithal to bolster up his mind."

"A businessman is a hybrid of a dancer and a calculator."

"A philosophy must be portable. "

"A poem is never finished, only abandoned."

"A man's true secrets are more secret to himself than they are to others."

"All our language is composed of brief little dreams; and the wonderful thing is that we sometimes make of them strangely accurate and marvelously reasonable thoughts. What should we be without the help of that which does not exist? Very little. And our unoccupied minds would languish if fables, mistaken notions, abstractions, beliefs, and monsters, hypotheses, and the so-called problems of metaphysics did not people with beings and objectless images our natural depths and darkness. Myths are the souls of our actions and our loves. We cannot act without moving towards a phantom. We can love only what we create. "

"At the end of the mind, the body. But at the end of the body, the mind. "

"An artist never really finishes his work, he merely abandons it."

"At times I think and at times I am."

"Books have the same enemies as people: fire, humidity, animals, weather, and their own content."

"Cognition reigns but does not rule. "

"Follow the path of your aroused thought, and you will soon meet this infernal inscription: There is nothing so beautiful as that which does not exist. "

"God made everything out of nothing. But the nothingness shows through."

"God created man and, finding him not sufficiently alone, gave him a companion to make him feel his solitude more keenly."

"I am now going to make an admission. I confess, I agree, that all these good people who protested, who laughed, who did not perceive what we perceived, were in a quite legitimate position. Their opinion was quite in order. One must not be afraid to say that the kingdom of letters is only a province of the vast empire of entertainment. One picks up a book, one puts it aside; and even when one cannot put it down one very well understands that this interest is related to the facility of pleasure. That is to say that every effort of a creator of beauty or of fantasy should be bent, by the very essence of his work, on contriving for the public pleasure which demands no effort, or almost none. It is through the public that he should deduce what touches, moves, soothes, animates or enchants the public. "

"I believed, rather more accurately, that a work resolutely thought out and sought for in the hazards of the mind, systematically, and through a determined analysis of definite and previously prescribed conditions, whatever its value might be once it had been produced, did not leave the mind of its creator without having modified him, and forced him to recognize and in some way reorganize himself. I said to myself that it was not the accomplished work, and its appearance and effect in the world that can fulfill and edify us; but only the way in which we have done it. "

"If some great catastrophe is not announced every morning, we feel a certain void. Nothing in the paper today, we sigh."

"Let us enrich ourselves with our mutual differences."

"Latent in every man is a venom of amazing bitterness, a black resentment; something that curses and loathes life, a feeling of being trapped, of having trusted and been fooled, of being helpless prey to impotent rage, blind surrender, the victim of a savage, ruthless power that gives and takes away, enlists a man, drops him, promises and betrays, and -crowning injury- inflicts on him the humiliation of feeling sorry for himself. "

"It seems to me that the soul, when alone with itself and speaking to itself, uses only a small number of words, none of them extraordinary."

"Long years must pass before the truths we have made for ourselves become our very flesh."

"My hand feels touched as well as it touches; reality says this, and nothing more. "

"Nothing is more natural than mutual misunderstanding; the contrary is always surprising. I believe that one never agrees on anything except by mistake, and that all harmony among human beings is the happy fruit of an error. "

"Man's great misfortune is that he has no organ, no kind of eyelid or brake, to mask or block a thought, or all thought, when he wants to."

"Poems are never finished - just abandoned "

"One should be light like a bird, and not like a feather. "

"Nowadays the future isn't what it used to be. "

"Politics is the art of preventing people from busying themselves with what is their own business. "

"Politeness is organized indifference. "

"Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them."

"Poetry is a separate language, or more specifically, a language within a language. "