between silences

While reading translations of the work of the French poets (Yves Bonnefoy and Paul Valery) I spotted a sort of kinship between two of their poems.

Both writers are masters of their craft to the extent that they are willing — perhaps eager — to release all they have, all that they are, into the void. Is it because of their faith (even as devout Skeptics) in the eternal in-breath of silence and an inevitable exhale which is the mother of form? Is it due to a maturity of thought which allows their egos to step aside? I will allow you to be the judge.

The first poem possesses a certain tautness; the lines stride confidently along the via negativa, but the ending has a cathartic effect on this reader. There are open spaces here, where the wind and thoughts may wander, yet the whole remains cohesive in its imagery.

A Stone

The books: he tore them all apart.
The devastated page. Yet the light
On the page, the increase of light.
He knew he was becoming the blank page again.

He went out. Torn, the visage of the world
Took on another beauty, seemed more human now.
In shadow play, the sky’s hand reached for his.
The stone where you see his weathered name
Was opening, forming a word.

–Yves Bonnefoy, from the collection, The Curved Planks
(Translated by Hoyt Rogers.)

The Birth of Aphrodite (Ivan Aivazovsky)

The Birth of Aphrodite (Ivan Aivazovsky)

The painting above seems to partake of a “wine-dark sea” similar to the poem below:

The Lost Wine

One day into the sea I cast
(But where I cannot now divine)
As offering to oblivion,
My small store of precious wine . . .

What, oh rare liquor, willed your loss?
Some oracle half understood?
Some hidden impulse of the heart
That made the poured wine seem like blood?

From this infusion of smoky rose
The sea regained its purity,
Its usual transparency . . .

Lost was the wine, and drunk the waves!
I saw high in the briny air
Forms unfathomed leaping there.

Paul Valery

Posted by Jillian Parker

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6 thoughts on “between silences

  1. to be willing to ecstatically, even painfully release is to invite the inverse, receiving in kind. to cast bread upon the water, or as poets, breath. to give has always been to get even if not remembered. and every new thing is written upon the blank page. the poem given joins the river that has flowed since the beginning of time.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Very interesting to compare these two poems and poets. I have always thought of Bonnefoy as profoundly obscurist whereas Valery retains clarity of surface and depth; however, seen in this light I’ve discovered something new about both. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I would be the first one to admit that I do not comprehend all of Bonnefoy’s poetry. Being able to read him in the original French might help. However, enough of the flavor of his work permeates the translations, so that I receive a transmission — in my case it is like a silvery-gray filament, shadowy, and delicate, which vibrates and enlivens his work for me. I sip his poems as one would sip ice-cold water from a spring fed by snowmelt.

    Valery comes from a generation earlier. His wounds are the wounds of his age. It is as if he must be clear at all costs, in order to avoid siding with the enemy.

    And so it was that I, too, found myself surprised by the similar thought-movements in the two poems. I notice that both writers, through their poems, express a keenly observant eye and an appreciation of the experiential.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. To be honest I love Valery the theorist and prose writer better than the poet. His study “The Method of da Vinci” and his prose meditation on seashells were for me revelations of rationalist/poetic thinking. I also love Bonnefoy. He seems to exist in another world. A place where the elements speak, where stones have voices. I also totally appreciated your piece and see the connection. They do indeed share “the eternal in-breath of silence and an inevitable exhale which is the mother of form,” even if they perhaps have different starting points.

    Liked by 1 person

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