This is a wholly admirable book. Bonnefoy is not nearly as well known in English as he should be, despite his standing as France's leading living poet. He lies in the mainstream line that runs back to Mallarme; his major books of poetry have an elegiac beauty which is rarely found either in France or more widely. The Arriere-Pays is an extended prose poem that engages with a fascinating range of dark questions whilst essentially remaining a celebration of aesthetics. Its exquisite rhythms are translated with a wonderful naturalness by Stephen Romer, himself a distinguished poet whose fine corpus of poetry grows slowly but steadily. Key to Bonnefoy's vision here are a wide range of paintings and other artistic objects, whose satisfactory reproduction is a core part of the success here. The failure of this outstanding volume to appear in translation sooner than it has makes a bizarre tale, but let that not distract you. I suspect your outlook on the broad context of the western arts may be challenged and broadened by reading this intriguing and beautiful book. I recommend it unreservedly while I also have a suspicion that it will not readily get reprinted so well ... it would be rather appropriate if this were to become a collector's item.
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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. When the curtains of thought on the human mind are pulled, Bonnefoy hopes that it will reveal to him and us, an outre-terre, a no-place recollected by neither cartographers nor anthropologists, but which in the end will be the final ontology of a fantastic new consciousness: `Night and day would be like everywhere else at any time. But at morning, noon and evening would be a light so complete, and so pure, in its manifest modulation, that men, so dazzled they could only see against the light, dark forms fringed with fire, with no use for psychology, only the yes and no of presence before them, would communicate as though by lightening--in flashes--with an inspired violence--rooted in untellable tenderness--the absolute revolution.'
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