Yves Bonnefoy was born on June 24, 1923, in Tours, France. His mother was a nurse and later a schoolteacher; his father died when Bonnefoy was thirteen. His early life was divided between the working-class surroundings of Tours and the rural home of his maternal grandfather, a schoolteacher and natural intellectual who had a great influence on the boy, and in many ways Bonnefoy considered his grandparents’ home his own true home. He studied in Tours and at the University of Poitiers, primarily chemistry and mathematics.
Bonnefoy moved to Paris in 1943 to continue his scientific studies, but once there he found that his interests moved more toward poetry and philosophy. He sought out what remained of the Surrealist group—André Breton in particular—and, though his formal association with it was brief, he formed many important friendships with young artists and poets, including Egyptian francophone Surrealist Georges Henin. Bonnefoy married, edited a review, and studied widely different subjects, eventually taking a degree by writing a thesis on Charles Baudelaire and Søren Kierkegaard. This combined interest in poetry and philosophy has remained with him during his entire career.
Bonnefoy accepted jobs in Paris as a mathematics and science teacher, escaping the draft for “compulsory labor” during World War II because the war ended before he was called. During this time he was reading the poetry of Paul Éluard, whose influence, according to Bonnefoy, “tempered the influences of Baudelaire and Valéry.” In politics, he was a Trotskyite, and having broken away from Breton’s influence he and friends edited a journal, La Revolution, La Nuit . He was poor during these years and benefitted from his sister’s influence as a secretary at the Sorbonne in that she found him a job there, which allowed him to attend...
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