The great painter Degas often repeated to me a very true and simple remark by Mallarmé. Degas occasionally wrote verses, and some of those he left were delightful. But he often found great difficulty in this work accessory to his painting. (He was, by the way, the kind of man who would bring all possible difficulty to any art whatever.) One day he said to Mallarmé: “Yours is a hellish craft. I can’t manage to say what I want, and yet I’m full of ideas …” And Mallarmé answered: “My dear Degas, one does not make poetry with ideas, but with words.”
Mallarmé was right. But when Degas spoke of ideas, he was, after all, thinking of inner speech or of images, which might have been expressed in words. But these words, these secret phrases which he called ideas, all these intentions and perceptions of the mind, do not make verses. There is something else, then, a modification, or a transformation, sudden or not, spontaneous or not, laborious or not, which must necessarily intervene between the thought that produces ideas – that activity and multiplicity of inner questions and solutions – and, on the other hand, that discourse so different from ordinary speech, which is verse, which is so curiously ordered, which answers no need unless it be the need it must itself create, which never speaks but of absent things or of things profoundly and secretly felt: strange discourse, as though made by someone other than the speaker and addressed to someone other than the listener. In short, it is a language within a language.