The line is from Valery's La Jeune Parque. 'Le' cannot refer to 'ombre' since it is feminine. And I doubt it refers to some general thing such as 'reality' like in the sentence 'it rains'. So I'm basically clueless here. Here's the full context:

L'esprit n’est pas si pur que jamais idolâtre
Sa fougue solitaire aux élans de flambeau
Ne fasse fuir les murs de son morne tombeau.
Tout peut naître ici-bas d’une attente infinie.
L'ombre même le cède à certaine agonie,
L'âme avare s’entr’ouvre, et du monstre s’émeut
Qui se tord sur le pas d’une porte de feu.

And while we're at it, let's go ahead and tackle 'entr'ouvre because I don't get that either. Is 'ouvre' an adjective, preposition, what? I would think 'entre' would be the verb but hey maybe I'm wrong. It was translated as The clutching soul half-opens and is moved but I don't think that is a literal translation.


2 Answers 2


I think this le refers to the esprit, taking up the theme begun at the start of the passage. The mind is not so pure ... Even shadow hands it over to agony, or something along those lines. (I might return to do a proper translation later.)

Entrouvrir is not so puzzling once you find the reference. The apostrophe, which contracts an e, is no longer written. (For a parallel in English, I just opened Alice in Wonderland and found "sha'n't": both the ll and the o are contracted... but it looks too weird, much as a mid-word apostrophe does in French.) The idea of being "entre" ouvert is that it's between closed and opened: half-open.

I think the picture is of a soul opening as a maw or as the gate of hell (porte de feu) or something — an ominous mouth opens in it to consume what is handed over by the shadow... It's a difficult thing to be certain of!


In the line in question, le replaces l'esprit from the first line given. As a reference to l'esprit, then followed by l'âme, you see the parallel structure.

Lots of verbs contract with (se) entre as a prefix, including s'entrégorger, s'entraccuser, s'entraider. [TLFi] 1for example shows:

A. Devant voyelle. Il y a traditionnellement élision du e qu'on remplace par une apostrophe. Dans certains cas l'apostrophe est supprimée et les 2 termes sont soudés. Ex. entr'aimer/entraider.

Spelling reform has changed some things but the pronunciation endures.

Furthermore entre is productive as a prefix to show reciprocation : the miserly* soul opens itself to the agony, and from that monster yearning...

*Avaricious even, not a translation fidèle of poetry at this moment

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