Other Literary Forms
Yves Bonnefoy has distinguished in the fields of art criticism and literary criticism. He is also renowned as a translator of William Shakespeare’s plays into French. His essays on art span the entire range from Byzantine to contemporary, from studies of the Renaissance and the Baroque to such works as Bonnefoy’s Alberto Giacometti: Biographie d’une æuvre (1991; Alberto Giacometti: A Biography of His Work, 1991), on the twentieth century Italian sculptor. Bonnefoy is not simply an academic critic; some of his most moving prose writing is that which ties the experience of the artist to the interior experience of the imaginative writer. In L’Arrière-pays (1972; the hinterland), for example, he combines insightful discussions of classical Renaissance paintings with meditations on the sources of inspiration he draws from his own childhood. The title’s arrière-pays (which brings to mind arrière-plan, the background in a painting, and which means, roughly, “back country”) allows for an extended meditation on the figures in the backgrounds of classic paintings and the feeling of well-being which Bonnefoy has experienced in his childhood and in his many travels.
This interior experience is Bonnefoy’s major focus in his literary criticism as well, from the essays in L’Improbable et autres essais (1959, 1980; “The Improbable” and other essays) to the monograph Rimbaud par lui-même (1961; Rimbaud, 1973) to the collections Le Nuage rouge (1977; the red cloud) and La Présence et l’image (1983; the presence of the image). Bonnefoy returns again and again to the idea that the images a poet uses, while in some sense unreal, are able to lead the reader to what he calls the “true place” of poetry. Thus the line “Ô Saisons, ô châteaux” (Oh Seasons, oh castles), which begins the famous poem by Rimbaud, becomes for Bonnefoy both a utopian dream and a reality which can be reached through language.
The philosophical issues that the poet locates in his artistic and literary researches are, in turn, fed back into his poetry, with the result that the poetry and the critical works come to mirror each other’s concerns. His collection of lectures, Lieux et destins de l’image: Un Cours de poétique au Collège de France, 1981-1993 (1999) is perhaps the most comprehensive compilation of his poetics to date.