Skip to content

Cluster index: Yves Bonnefoy

Three poems from ‘The Wandering Life’.

Yves Bonnefoy: ‘Three angels are standing there, who look at him and smile. One wears a red robe; another’s raiment is blue-gray; the third is swathed in saffron yellow, inconceivably vivid and intense. ‘Who are you?’ he asks them.’

The Seicento and the Cult of Images.

Yves Bonnefoy: ‘We look at these rivers, these cities in the light; at these beings, haloed by an astounding dignity. We say to ourselves: that world is, perhaps. And within us, soon the ‘passion’ flames up, which is nothing but a love that has its object in our dreams—and we feel tempted to devote a ‘cult’ to certain images, at least.’


Yves Bonnefoy: And always to quays at night, to bars, to a voice saying I am the lamp, I am the oil.

Three poems from Together Still.

Yves Bonnefoy: Yes, but look: the grass is crushed, where an animal has slept.
Its hideaway is like a sign. The sign is more
Than what was lost, than life going by—
Than the song on the road, late at night.

Sonnets of Music and Memory.

Hoyt Rogers: ‘Naturally, Bonnefoy was well aware of the signal role of music in Shakespeare. His plays contain or allude to well over a hundred songs, many of which were probably performed with instruments as well as voices, as part of the entertainment. ‘

Paths to Speech.

Hoyt Rogers: ‘I have the impression that we never fully hear the tonal subtleties of each other’s languages. Probably I want to imagine stronger accents in French than really exist for you as a native speaker, whereas I note in your English versions that you soft-pedal the metrical beats, as though our language were as mildly accentuated as yours. Most of the time, when you find me slightly altering the semantics in a verse, I am in quest of a prosodic fit—not just ignorant of the faint modulation in meaning.’

Writing to Shakespeare.

Bonnefoy: ‘…you’re standing in a corner of the theatre. It’s cold, and a wind seems to be blowing. You’re talking to several men, young and old. One of them will be Hamlet; another, Ophelia. Do you have an idea to explain to them? No. Hamlet is being written here, at this very moment, in the sentences that come to you, that take you by surprise. It’s virtually an improvisation, over several days divided between your table—I don’t know where—and the stage: a text, certainly, but one you cross out off-the-cuff, as when you understand—for example, at this very instant—that your future Hamlet doesn’t grasp all that well what you’re trying to tell him.’

Écrire à Shakespeare.

Yves Bonnefoy: ‘Et comment ces mains s’y sont pris pour faire bouger cette boue, ces couleurs, ce froid, ces débuts mystérieux de chaleur, je voudrais bien vous le demander, c’était la raison de ma lettre, ou plutôt, non, je voudrais vous dire ce que j’en pense, vous expliquer ce que vous avez fait, car j’ai mon idée là dessus, en effet, vous acquiesceriez peut-être…’

The Curved Planks, Dear Paula, a postscript, and a note on Paula Rego.

Yves Bonnefoy (to Paula Rego): ‘Paula, you put speech to the test of night. The frail voice which sought the clearest and simplest truth in the relationship between people, you bury it, as a mountain crumbles, under the multiplying voices that you hear crashing around inside you, as they protest violently, crazily, angrily, in the abyss of the unconscious. Your dark revelations have become the entire sky, the entire earth. What will remain of the hope of this child who has arrived from nowhere, clutching in his clenched fist what he needs to pay for his passage?

Everything, in my opinion.’