Bonnefoy’s Stone/Sign

Bonnefoy is one one of the great 20th century poets (Celan is another) whose witness is beyond nihilism. The very short poems he titled pierres are like signs on the horizon. The example below requires the reader to engage as addressed. It’s a process poem. The grammar is equivocal. ‘Fall but softly rain’: are fall and rain two verbs addressed to the Unknowable? Students of metaxical thought will recognize this strategy, the equivocity and the immanence of ‘this face.’ The second line contextualizes the first as in a Between. The third verb extends the narrative but slows it down. Is the stone a clay lamp this time? The passage of time — doubling the standing of stone — acts on the humble clay lamp: all things pass in a kind of dance. The ultimate unknown is the addressee, which is at minimum the creative consciousness of the reader.

The text is from Yves Bonnefoy I:Poems (Carcanet 2017)



Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at and other sites.

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