Yves Bonnefoy Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

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.


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Yves Bonnefoy is one of the most highly admired poets to reach maturity in France in the post-World War II period, and many would identify him as the most important French poet-intellectual at the turn of the twenty-first century. His early work had the character of being challenging and even hermetic, but it struck a chord with a whole generation of readers and poets. His poetry has always maintained the quality of being highly meditated and serious to its purpose. While his preoccupations are philosophical—death, the existence of the loved one, the place of truth—his poetic language is highly imaged and moves equally in the realms of beauty and truth.

The close association Bonnefoy has always maintained with visual artists who are his contemporaries has given him a high prominence in the art world as well. Though he maintains a teaching position in literature, he has tended more and more in his later career to pursue his interests in art and the theory of culture. His writings on art are prized both for what they say about individual artists and for the high level of reflection they bring to the subject of creativity.

Bonnefoy’s nomination to the Chair of Comparative Studies of the Poetic Function at the Collège de France in 1981 confirmed his position as one of France’s leading poets and intellectual figures. A regular affiliation with Yale University and visiting professorships at other American universities ensured Bonnefoy’s prominence among American academic circles as well; he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Chicago in 1988. He was also honored, in 1992, with an exhibition of his manuscripts and other documents at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. His many other awards include the Grand Prix de Poésie from the French Academy (1981), the Grand Prix Société des Gens de Lettres (1987), the Bennett Award from The Hudson Review, in which may of his poems and essays have appeared (1988), the Bourse Goncourt (1991), the Prix Balzac (1995), the Prix Del Duca (1995), the Prix National de Poésie (1996), and the Mutsuoko Shiki Prize (2000).


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Caws, Mary Ann. Yves Bonnefoy. Boston: Twayne, 1984. A rare book-length work in English that introduces Bonnefoy’s life and works to students. Bibliography.

Fink, Michèle. Yves Bonnefoy: Le Simple et le sens. Paris: Corti, 1989. In French.

Lawler, James. “’La Neige Piétinée est la seule rose’: Poetry and Truth in Yves Bonnefoy.” L’Esprit Créateur 32, no. 2 (Summer, 1992): 43-53. Analysis of Bonnefoy’s work.

Naughton, John T. The Poetics of Yves Bonnefoy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984. Along with that of Caws, one of the few book-length studies in English devoted to Bonnefoy’s poetics. The reviewer for Choice, J. Labat, noted that Naughton’s “numerous notes contain a wealth of scholarly information. The broadly selected bibliography includes the latest publications by and about the poet. Index of names and titles. This study should be acquired by every academic library and teacher of Bonnefoy’s work.”

Petterson, James. Postwar Figures of L’Ephemer: Yves Bonnefoy, Louis-Rene de Forets, Jacques Dupin, Andre Du Bouchet. Bucknell University Press, 2000.

Pinet-Thélot, Livane. Yves Bonnefoy: Ou, L’Expérience de L’Etranger. The subtitle translates as “the experience of the foreigner.” This brief (142-page) monograph focuses on certain aspects of Bonnefoy’s poetics. In French.

Thélot, Jérôme. La Poétique d’Yves Bonnefoy. Geneva: Droz, 1983. Criticism and interpretation of Bonnefoy’s works. In French.