‘Le Cimetiere marin’ is about mortality and immortality, body and soul, life and death, the inexorable passage of time. It was published in 1920, when Paul Valery was nearly 50, although he had started work on it some years before after revisiting the graveyard by the sea at Sete, a town on the Mediterranean coast, where he had been born and brought up and was later to be buried. It begins on a note of supreme tranquillity as Valéry gazes out between the pine trees and the tombs over the calm, roof-like expanse of the sea, stretching away into infinity, with what seem to be doves moving slowly and peacefully across it:
Ce toit tranquille, où marchent des colombes,
Entre les pins palpite, entre les tombes.
(Quiet that roof, where the doves are walking,
Quivers between the pines, between the tombs.)
He has the impression of looking down…
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