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"Aux mots patients et sauveurs" James R. Lawler MY TITLE COMES FROM a page at the midcenter of Poèmes. Written in 1959 and less than forty lines in length, "Dévotion" encompasses a life in an unadorned naming. I cannot but return to it when I think of Yves Bonnefoy's work and of what it means to me. This thanksgiving is addressed to the good images of experience which are celebrated with an even warmth, whether they are snow-filled streets, English pubs, the black soil of a Spanish shrine, the tall glass houses of the modern city, the circles inscribed in the walls of Italian churches. There is rich breadth in this "anamnesis" as the poet calls it, this act of remembrance which quite naturally achieves the poise of a litany. From the first moment we respond to the spare language, anaphoric mode, grave sounds that tell a commitment. The third paragraph introduces the imperfect tense of a confession: "J'allais, je me perdais. Et les mots trouvaient mal leur voie dans le terrible silence. —Aux mots patients et sauveurs."1 Words are a manner of persons—more, divinities—who merit the attributes we apply to a living god. No explanation is given, but words that had seemed to go astray become the object of homage: they find a path, discover a sense beyond the selva oscura of concepts. The fullness of a language, perhaps the most humble, can signify the divine. I would like to look at a poem written some thirty years after "Dévotion ," and once again the numerically middle piece—eight of fifteen—in a book. Ce qui fut sans lumière is the admirable achievement of Yves Bonnefoy's recent years, and I shall consider one poem eloquent of the sequence. We overhear rather than hear these words addressed to another who is the woman and sister-soul. The short verse-paragraphs, shifting rhythms, and interwoven harmonies summon things loved in their simplicity and strangeness; and what more subtle exchange do we have of loss and gain, encapsulated here in the almond of absence? Le mot ronce, dis-tu? Je me souviens De ces barques échouées dans le varech Que traînent les enfants les matins d'été Avec des cris de joie dans les flaques noires Car il en est, vois-tu, où demeure la trace D'un feu qui y brûla à l'avant du monde Vol. XXXVI, NO. 3 27 L'Esprit Créateur —Et sur le bois noirci, où le temps dépose Le sel qui semble un signe mais s'efface, Tu aimeras toi aussi l'eau qui brille. Du feu qui va en mer la flamme est brève, Mais quand elle s'éteint contre la vague, Il y a des irisations dans la fumée. Le mot ronce est semblable à ce bois qui sombre. Et poésie, si ce mot est dicible, N'est-ce pas de savoir, là où l'étoile Parut conduire mais pour rien sinon la mort, Aimer cette lumière encore? Aimer ouvrir L'amande de l'absence dans la parole?2 We recognize elements of this language from our past readings of the poet. His "parole partageable" is no less characteristic oî Poèmes than of Ce qui fut sans lumière: wood, water, star, fire, bramble. Twenty years ago he told us: "Il y a place pour la ronce"; again: "Oui, par les ronces..."; and yet again, earlier still, in Hier régnant désert and Pierre écrite. A critic has described the word "ronce" as "deeply revealing of a primitive fear in Yves Bonnefoy which inaugurates poetry's quest for the true place"; yet "ronce" in these lines is not sublated but embraced. It holds a depth which the poet identifies with passion itself—"cette ardeur qui fut toute ma vie"3—and which he develops in the most unexpected of ways. A memory first of all: "ronce" calls up the summer vision of children playing with fossilized wood which becomes the make-believe boat they skim across the puddles. This is a happiness that for the suddenly didactic self evokes the morning of the world, and...


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