Yves Bonnefoy

Yves Bonnefoy Poems

Passer-by, these are words. But instead of reading
I want you to listen: to this frail
Voice like that of letters eaten by grass.

I woke up, it was the house where I was born,
Sea foam splashed against the rock,
Not a single bird, only the wind to open and close the wave,
Everywhere on the horizon the smell of ashes,
As if the hills were hiding a fire
That somewhere else was burning up a universe.
I went onto the veranda, the table was set,
The water knocked against the legs of the table, the sideboard.
And yet she had to come in, the faceless one,
The one I knew was shaking the door
In the hall, near the darkened staircase, but in vain,
So high had the water already risen in the room.
I took the handle, it was hard to turn,
I could almost hear the noises of the other shore,
The laughter of the children playing in the tall grass,
The games of the others, always the others, in their joy.

I woke up, it was the house where I was born.
It was raining softly in all the rooms,
I went from one to another, looking at
The water that shone on the mirrors
Piled up everywhere, some broken or even
Pushed between the furniture and the walls.
It was from these reflections that sometimes a face
Would emerge, laughing, of a gentleness
That was different from what the world is.
And, with a hesitant hand, I touched in the image
The tossled hair of the goddess,
Beneath the veil of the water
I could see the sad, distracted face of a little girl.
Bewilderment between being and not being,
Hand that is reluctant to touch the mist,
Then I listened as the laughter faded away
In the halls of the empty house.
Here nothing but forever the gift of the dream,
The outstretched hand that does not cross
The fast flowing water where memories vanish.

I woke up, it was the house where I was born,
It was night, trees were crowding
On all sides around our door,
I was alone on the doorstep in the cold wind,
No, not alone, for two huge beings
Were speaking to each other above me, through me.
One, behind, an old woman, stooped, mean,
The other standing upright outside like a lamp,
Beautiful, holding the cup that had been offered her,
Drinking greedily to calm her thirst.
Did I think to mock her, surely not,
Rather I let out a cry of love
But with the strangeness of despair,
And the poison ran throughout my body,
Ceres, mocked, broke the one who loved her.
Thus speaks the life walled up in life today.

Another time.
It was still night. Water slid
Silently on the black ground,
And I knew that my only task would be
To remember, and I laughed,
I bent down, I took from the mud
A pile of branches and leaves,
I lifted up the whole dripping mass
In arms I held close to my heart.
What to do with this wood where
The sound of color rose from so much absence,
It hardly mattered, I went in haste, looking for
At least some kind of shed, beneath the load
Of branches that were full of
Rough edges, stabbing pains, points, cries.

And voices that cast shadows on the road,
Or called to me, and, my heart beating fast,
I turned around to face the empty road.

Yesterday again
The clouds were passing
At the far dark end of the room.
But just now the mirror is empty.

The untangling of the sky.

Five o'clock. Snow again. I hear voices
In the front of the world.

A plough
Like a moon in the third quarter
Shines, but the night
Covers it with a layer of snow.

And this child
Has the whole house to himself, from now on. He goes
From one window to another. He presses
His fingers against the glass. He sees
Drops form where he stops
Pushing the mist towards the falling sky.

This snowflake
That alights on my hand, I wish
To fix it as eternal
In making of my life, my heat,
My past, these present days,
Simply a moment, this very moment, limitless.

But already it is only
A little bit of water getting lost
In the mist of the flakes going into the snow.


Fleeting on the scarf, on the glove
Like this illusion, the poppy,
In the hand that dreamed, last summer
On the road among the dry stones,
That the absolute is within reach of the world.

However, what promise
In the delicate touch of this water, for it was,
For an instant, the light! The summer sky
Has hardly any clouds to half open
A brighter way under dark vaults.

Under her pergola of shadows, the visionary,
Had no redder fruit.

All, now,
Nice and warm
Under your light cloak,
Almost nothing but mist and embroidery,
Madonna of mercy of the snow.

Against your body
Beings and things
Sleep, naked, and your fingers
Shade those closed eyelids from their light.

It's snowing.
Under the snowflakes the gate
Finally opens to the garden
Of more than the world.

I go forward. But my scarf
Gets caught on rusty
Iron and tears
In me the fabric of the dream.

And what must we think
Of these yellow apples?
Yesterday, they astonished, waiting like this, naked
After the leaves had fallen,

Today they charm
As their shoulders
Are modestly accented
With an edging of snow.

I go through the snow. I closed
My eyes, but the light can still get through
My porous eyelids, and I perceive
That in my words it's still the snow
That swirls, thickens, bursts.

A letter that we find and unfold,
And the ink on it has faded and in the marks
The clumsiness of the wit is visible
Which can only muddle up its sharp shadows.

And we try to read, we don't understand
Who is interested in us in memory,
Except that it's summer again; and we see
Under the flakes the leaves, and the heat
Rise from the missing sun like a mist.

It sounds like a lot of silent e's in a sentence.
One feels that one owes them
Only shadows of metaphors.

It's like,
As soon as it is snowing more heavily,
These hands that push away other hands

But play with the fingers they have rejected.


Blunders, without repercussions of the light.
One follows another and still others, as if
Understanding no longer mattered, nor laughing.

And Aristotle said it very well,
Somewhere in his Poetics that we read so poorly,
The value of transparency,
In phrases like the buzzing of bees,
is like clear water.

Lucretius knew it:
Open the chest
And you will see that it's full of swirling

And sometimes two flakes
Meet, combine,
Or else one turns aside gracefully
In its small death.

Where does the idea come from that it's clear
In a few words
When the one is only the night,
The other only a dream?

Where do those two shadows come from
Going along smiling,
And the one muffled up
In red wool?


It's snowing. Soul, did you expect
To have eternal birth?
See, you have there
Even a party dress for death.

Finery like in adolescence,
Of those that we take in anxious hands
As the fabric of it is transparent and remains near
Fingers that open it out in the light,
We know that it's as fragile as love.

But corollas and leaves are embroidered there,
And already the music can be heard
In the neighbouring room, where the lights are.
A mysterious ardour takes your hand.

You go, your heart pounding, into the big snow.

The flake hesitates in the blue sky
Once again, the last flake of the big snow.

And it's as though she who must surely have imagined
What could be would enter the garden,
That look, that simple god, without remembering
The tomb, without any thought but happiness,
Without any future
Except its dispersal in the blue of the world.

‘No, don't touch me,' he would say to her,
But even to say no would shed light.

Just before dawn
I look through the window, and I think I understand
That it has stopped snowing. A blue puddle
Spreads, sparkling a little, in front of the trees,
From one end to the other of the night.

I go out.
I cautiously go down the wooden stairs
Where the fresh snow has levelled the steps.
The cold surrounds and penetrates my ankles,
It seems that my mind is clearer because of it,
Which perceives better the silence of things.

He is still sleeping
In the confusion of the pile of wood
Ricked under the window,
The chipmunk, our simple neighbour,
Or is he already roaming in the crunchy cold?
I see tiny marks in front of the door.

I had gone out
To get some water at the well by the trees,
And I was in the presence of another sky.
Disappeared was the constellations of a moment before,
Three quarters of the firmament was empty,
The most intense black reigned there alone,
But to the left, above the horizon,
Mixed with the top of the oaks,
There was a cluster of glowing stars
Like a blazing fire, from which even a cloud of smoke rose.

I went back in
And I re-opened the book on the table.
Page after page,
There were only indecipherable marks,
Aggregates of forms with no meaning
Although vaguely recurring,
And underneath a bottomless whiteness
As though what one calls the mind fell there, noiselessly,
Like snow.
I nevertheless turned the pages.

Many years before
In a train at the moment of daybreak
Between Princeton Junction and Newark,
That is, two accidental places for me.
Two arrows fallen to earth from nowhere,
The travellers were reading, silent
In the snow that was sweeping across the grey windows,
And suddenly,
In an open newspaper a couple of feet away from me,
A big photograph of Baudelaire,
A whole page
As the sky empties at the end of the world
To agree to the disorder of the words.

I drew together this dream and the memory
When I walked, first all one autumn
In woods where soon it was the snow
That triumphed, in many of those signs
That we receive, contradictorily,
From the world devastated by language.
The conflict of two principles came to an end,
It seemed to me, two lights mingled,
The edges of the wound healed.
The white mass of cold fell in bursts

Onto colour, but a roof in the distance, a painted
Plank leaning against a railing,
It was still colour, and mysterious,
Like one who would emerge from the tomb and, cheerful:
‘No, don't touch me,' he would say to the world.

I really owe a lot to Hopkins Forest,
I keep it on my horizon, in its part
That abandons the visible for the invisible
By the quivering of the blue of the distance.
I listen to it, through the noises, and sometimes even,
In the summer, scuffing the dead leaves
Of other years, vivid in the half-light
Of the oak trees that are too dense among the stones,
I stop, I think that this ground opens
To the infinite, that these leaves fall there
Without haste, or else go back up, the high, the low
No longer being, nor the noise, except the light
Whisper of the flakes that soon
Increase, get closer, join together,
- And then I see again all the other sky,
I enter for an instant into the big snow.

The Best Poem Of Yves Bonnefoy

Passer-By, These Are Words

Passer-by, these are words. But instead of reading
I want you to listen: to this frail
Voice like that of letters eaten by grass.

Lend an ear, hear first of all the happy bee
Foraging in our almost rubbed-out names.
It flits between two sprays of leaves,
Carrying the sound of branches that are real
To those that filigree the still unseen.

Then know an even fainter sound, and let it be
The endless murmuring of all our shades.
Their whisper rises from beneath the stones
To fuse into a single heat with that blind
Light you are as yet, who can still gaze.

May your listening be good! Silence
Is a threshold where a twig breaks in your hand,
Imperceptibly, as you attempt to disengage
A name upon a stone:

And so our absent names untangle your alarms.
And for you who move away, pensively,
Here becomes there without ceasing to be.

Yves Bonnefoy Comments

Fabrizio Frosini 15 May 2018

Yves Jean Bonnefoy, poet and essayist, born 24 June 1923; died 1 July 2016. “I would like to bring together, almost identify, poetry and hope.” Poet, essayist, art and literary critic, translator and editor, Yves Bonnefoy sought throughout to make clear the ground on which this hopefulness was to be built.

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Fabrizio Frosini 15 May 2018

Bonnefoy spent his career contesting the way that we tend to replace the reality of things and other people with an image or concept, which deprives us of a more direct and immediate experience he called the experience of “presence”, in which one has a fleeting apprehension of the essential oneness of all being. Supreme poet of the earth, Bonnefoy sought to bring a world smothered by abstraction back to life:

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Fabrizio Frosini 15 May 2018

God who are not, put your hand on our shoulder, Rough-cast our body with the weight of your return, Finish blending our souls with these stars, These woods, these bird cries, these shadows and these days. Give yourself up in us the way fruit tears apart, Have us disappear in you. Reveal to us The mysterious meaning in what is merely simple And would have fallen without fire in words without love.

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Fabrizio Frosini 15 May 2018

Bonnefoy was elected to the Collège de France in 1981, the first poet since Paul Valéry. Often spoken of as a potential Nobel prizewinner, he received many literary awards, doctorates and other honours.

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