‘The Eternal Procession’ – On ‘The Arrière-Pays’ by Yves Bonnefoy (excerpt)
Introduced and translated from the French by Stephen Romer
(Seagull Books, 2012)
Yves Bonnefoy is first an abstract form, then a poet. Therefore a work such as The Arrière–pays is but a shadow giving notice of his shapes still to locate a sundial. He is what Jean-Paul Sartre said of Baudelaire, that he had the posture of ‘a leaning man’ (‘d’un homme penché’); one acutely adrift of the comet of his own flesh and who, burning up in the drag of his own sentences, holds within his fist only the shredded remains of each exploded space. When Rimbaud wrote ‘To every being, several other lives seemed to me to be due’ he opened up in knowledge and in poetry the first true terror-pores of gnosis, allowing a poet like Bonnefoy to access his own unpurged mind, to conceive of what Yeats revealed in A Vision—‘all things dying each other’s life, living each other’s death’. To witness the mirage of this elsewhere in time and space (this place which Bonnefoy names ‘the arrière-pays’ i.e. an imaginary hinterland born of what he calls the ‘unknown feeling’), this poet has first to return to Eden, to locate the one tree in which the fruit is still flesh, and whose bark, if peeled back, reveals only his own still unused bone. © Paul Stubbs, August 2012.
The full text of this essay is available in Paul Stubbs’ book The Return to Silence, and Other Poetical Essays (Black Herald Press, 2016).