In 2005 for the first time in France a volume by a living poet was placed on the required reading list for the middle school final exam. It was Les planches courbes (The Crooked Planks, 2001) by Yves Bonnefoy. As direct result of that, in the space of two years the collection has clocked up sales of 140.000 copies. The choice in itself testifies to the importance that the French attach to Bonnefoy. But his poetry is also highly regarded beyond the borders of France; one proof of that is that his name regularly turns up on the short list for the Nobel Prize.
Yves Bonnefoy was born in 1923 in Tours. After his studies in mathematics and philosophy he pursued a university career as a literary scholar and art historian which in 1981 was crowned with his appointment to the renowned Collège de France. Yet it is in poetry that he finds the best expression of his experience of the world.
What Bonnefoy wants to capture in poetry is the immediate experience of the unity between people and world: ‘a world that would be courteous without aloofness, without a gap between object and subject, without words, except to reveal what goes beyond the words in the presence of things.’ The poet is faced with the task of maintaining the unity that is now undone precisely by the act of writing. It is undone in the first place because the poet distances himself from the experience in order to return to it at a later moment – the moment of writing. Then because the sign which he makes use of is a lever between the reader and the world and separates them again. The poet can succeed only when he manages to make the language of the mediation a ‘presence’, a concreteness comparable to ‘the stillness that rises from a field of stones’.
Yves Bonnefoy also emphasizes the ethical responsibility of the poet. His word strives not just to bring the reader in contact with the Universal, but it also aims to bind people together. Here the poet encounters the obstacle that our society is no longer acquainted with symbols that are shared by everyone, so that he must reinvent them from his own personal life. His words will therefore necessarily sound hermetic, but there are keys – a few of them are found in the numerous essays on poetry, philosophy, and painting with which Bonnefoy has marked his creative path.
[Yves Bonnefoy took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2007. This text was written on that occasion.]
Du mouvement et de l1immobilité de Douve, 1953
Hier régnant désert, 1958
Pierre écrite, 1964
Dans le leurre du seuil, 1975
Ce qui fut sans lumière, 1987
Début et fin de la neige, 1991
La vie errante, 1993
Les planches courbes, Mercure de France, 2001 (tous au Mercure de France et dans la collection Poésie-Gallimard)
Keats et Leopardi, Mercure de France, 2000.
Le coeur-espace 1945, 1961, Farrago, 2001
L'Improbable, Mercure de France, 1959
Arthur Rimbaud, Le Seuil, 1961
Un rêve fait à Mantoue, Mercure de France, 1967
Rome, 1630, Flammarion, 1970
L'Arrière-pays, Skira, 1972 (Gallimard, 1998)
Le Nuage rouge, Mercure de France, 1977
Entretiens sur la poésie, Mercure de France, 1981
Récits en rêve, Mercure de France, 1987. Aussi en Poésie-Gallimard, sous le titre Rue Traversière.
La vérité de parole, Mercure de France, 1988
Alberto Giacometti, biographie d'une oeuvre, Flammarion, 1991
Dessin, couleur et lumière, Mercure de France, 1995.
Théâtre et poésie: Shakespeare et Yeats, Mercure de France, 1998
Destins et lieux de l'image, Le Seuil, 1999
La Communauté des traducteurs, Press. Univ. de Strasbourg, 2000
L'enseignement et l'exemple de Leopardi, William Blake, 2001
Le théâtre des enfants, récits, William Blake et Cie
André Breton à l'avant de soi, essai, Farrago
Remarques sur le regard, essais, Calmann-Lévy, 2002
Sous l'horizon du langage, essais, Mercure de France, 2002.
Le nom du roi d'Asiné, essai, Virgile, 2003.
Nombreuses traductions de Shakespeare (Hamlet, Macbeth, Le roi Lear, Roméo et Juliette, Jules César, Le Conte d'hiver, la Tempête, Antoine etCléopâtre, Othello, Comme il vous plaira, etc.) et de poèmes de Yeats.
Edition du Dictionnaire des mythologies et des religions des sociétéstraditionnelles et du monde antique (Flammarion, 1981)