After some early work that appeared in surrealist reviews, Yves Bonnefoy published his first major book of poetry, Du mouvement et de l’immobilité de Douve (On the Motion and Immobility of Douve) with the Mercure de France in 1953.
This was the beginning of a body of work that has been pursued on various levels. First, the writing of poetry itself, which represents both the principal area of research and the force directing all the other kinds of writing. A dozen works have appeared, including the masterwork Dans le leurre du seuil (In the Lure of the Threshold) (1975) and the recent Les Planches courbes (The Curved Planks) (2001). Next, a philosophical reflection on the act of writing, which has been pursued in a vast number of essays and interviews, collected in such volumes as L’Improbable (1959), Un Rêve fait à Mantoue (1967), Le Nuage rouge (1977), La Vérité de parole (1988), Entretiens sur la poésie (1990), Sous l’horizon du langage (2002). This reflection is based on a consideration of some of the great works of poetry and of painting, the latter viewed by Bonnefoy as another form of poetry. Bonnefoy has done studies not only of Nerval, Baudelaire, and Rimbaud, but also of Shakespeare and Leopardi, as well as of painters of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. He has written on Poussin, Delacroix, Giacometti, without mentioning the many contemporary artists with whom he has published a number of illustrated versions of his works. Bonnefoy’s inquiries into the nature of poetry led to his election to the Collège de France in 1981. He has translated a number of poets, including Donne, Keats, Leopardi, Yeats, and above all Shakespeare, a dozen of whose plays Bonnefoy has translated into French, with a critical essay accompanying each translation. He is the editor of the Dictionnaire des mythologies (1981; English translation: University of Chicago Press, 1991). Bonnefoy has also written a number of prose-poems that he calls récits en rêve , or dream-narratives, that seek the origin of poetry in the unconscious and imagine existence from a non-conceptual perspective. Of similar importance and nature is the autobiographical work, L’Arrière-pays (The Hinterland) (1972). Bonnefoy is presently at work on an essay on Goya. His current poetic projects involve a consideration of the relation of poetry to theater.