Yves Bonnefoy out of obscurity
When I was a freshman in college, I asked one of my teachers to recommend a French poet whose verse contained much lyricism and obscurity, and she pointed me towards Yves Bonnefoy. I picked up a couple volumes of his work, which I read at the time. I saw him read sparingly when I spent a year studying at a university in France, and then I never heard of him again until I read Charles Simic’s review of Bonnefoy’s new collection, The Curved Planks, in the New York Review of Books last week. Simic closes his essay:
He insists that we must face our mortality, that from our finitude comes whatever wisdom we have. His poems strive to remind of of our earliest experiences of solitude, those moments of wordless feelings that shaped our identities. We must return again to that moment when we found ourselves for the first time in the presence of that most ineffable of realities. Poetry for Bonnefoy is a story of one subject, one great emotion. Not much else happens in his poems. There are no cities, no history, and almost no other people. He is a poet of small ephiphanies: some long-ago summer evening when the night forgot to fall while a lone child played on the road and a distance voice kept calling him. This is the secret of his lyricism, the memory of a fragment of time touched by eternity that he cannot let go. Is this one obsession enough for a lifetime of poetry? In a few of his finest poems, Bonnefoy makes us believe that it is.