JUXTAPOSITIONS Yves Bonnefoy “A Stone”

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Yves Bonnefoy “Second Simplicity: New Poetry and Prose, 1991-2011,” trans. Hoyt Rogers, 2011

“The fundamental porosity of the human soul, by contrast with this particular project or that, seems to look like a void; but it is a nothing that allows all openness, all receiving, all self-transcendence. Out of it come all the practical energies that feed this project and that. That there is a such a porosity, or fecund void of the soul, also means that the nothing can be looked at as otherwise than a justification for nihilism, theoretical or practical.”
William Desmond, “The Intimate Universal,” 148.

Two great texts about the origin of poetry, of creativity. Desmond the philosopher’s myth of the porosity, that original capacity for connection between mortals and immortals, the moving image of the intimate universal; Bonnefoy the poet’s myth of “unepierre,” a sort of tabula rasa for hope: these are creative responses to the dominant myth of Nothingness we encounter in modernity. The cultural force of Nothingness had been an issue for the Romantics. By the time of Eliot it had transformed the landscape into the wasteland.

Bonnefoy’s “stones” became in his diverse oeuvre spiritual exercises that engage the reader at her deepest identity. While they use the rhetoric of the occasion, Desmond’s “this project or that,” they are deeply sourced meditations on the Intimate Universal. They engage the reader in the overfull dynamism of the lyric narrative, the “figured philosophy” of phenomenology’s chiasm. Here that could not be plainer: from outer to inner, from lower to higher. Anarchy’s surreal torching of the given, the literature, reveals the irreducible light, not infernal darkness. The poet becomes original nothingness in the porosity where the universal is not convention but intimately universal.

The poem now moves into the overlapping figure of down/up. Yet another beauty draws one into the humble landscape, imagination starting over again in this project or that. In a reconfiguration of Keats’s final gesture of communicative being, “the sky’s hand reached for his” (there is always something of painting in Bonnefoy’s stone imagery). A word is formed at/on/in/from the stone, his effaced name opens on a new threshold.

Bonnefoy and Desmond bear witness to the power of the lyric narrative to override the conventional nihilism of the modern lyric. Myth kitties aside, the fecund void of the soul is every poet’s second self. And it is the cornerstone of liberal education.

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 tom.develyn@comcast.net. 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 http://tdevelyn.com and other sites.

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