“Well then, Phaedrus, this is how it was.”

March 14, 2013 § Leave a comment


Well then, Phaedrus, this is how it was. I was walking on the very edge of the sea. I was following an endless shore. . . . This is not a dream I am telling you. I was going I know not whither, overflowing with life, half-intoxicated by my youth. The air, deliciously rude and pure, pressing against my face and limbs, confronted me — an impalpable hero that I must vanquish in order to advance. And this resistance, ever overcome, made of me, too, at every step an imaginary hero, victorious over the wind, and rich in energies that were ever reborn, ever equal to the power of the invisible adversary. . . . That is just what youth is. I trod firmly the winding beach, beaten and hardened by the waves. All things around me were simple and pure: the sky, the sand, the water. I watched, as they came from the offing, those mighty shapes which seem to be running from the coasts of Libya, charioting their glistening summits, their hollow valleys, their relentless energy from Africa all the way to Attica across the immense liquid expanse. At last they come upon their obstacle, the very plinth of Hellas; they shatter themselves against those submarine foundations; they recoil in disorder towards the origin of their motion. When the waves are thus destroyed and confounded, yet seized in turn by those that follow them, it is as though the forms of the deep were engaged in strife. The countless drops break their chains, a sparkling spray goes up. One sees white horsemen leaping beyond themselves, and all those envoys of the inexhaustible sea perishing and reappearing, with a monotonous tumult, on a gentle, almost imperceptible slope, which all their vehemence, though it be come from the most remote horizon, will yet never be able to surmount. . . . Here the foam, flung farthest by the highest wave, forms yellowish iridescent heaps which burst in the sunlight, or which the wind sweeps along and disperses in the drollest fashion, like beasts scared by the sudden bound of the sea. But as for me, I was reveling in the newborn virgin foam. . . . Its contact is of a strange softness. it is a milk — warm, airy — that comes in with a voluptuous violence, pours round one’s bare feet, bathes them, passes beyond, and flows down upon them again, moaning with a voice that forsakes the shore and withdraws into itself; while the human statue, a living presence, sinks a little deeper into the sand that draws it down; and whilst the soul gives itself up to that so puissant and so delicate  music, is soothed by it, and follows it eternally.

[. . .]

This frontier between Neptune and Earth, ever disputed by those rival divinities, is the scene of the most dismal and most incessant commerce. That which the sea rejects, that which the land cannot retain, the enigmatic bits of drift; the hideous limbs of dislocated ships, black as charcoal, and looking as though charred by the salt waters; carrion horribly pecked and washed sleek by the waves; elastic weeds torn by the tempests from the transparent pasture grounds of Proteus’ flocks; collapsed monsters, of cold, deathly hues; all the things, in short, that fortune delivers over the fury of the shore, and to the fruitless litigation between wave and beach, and there carried to and for; raised, lowered; seized, lost, seized again according to the hour and the day; sad witnesses to the indifference of the fates, ignoble treasures, playthings of an interchange as perpetual as it is stationary. . . .

— Paul Valéry, “Eupalinos, or the Architect”

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