On the motion and immobility of Douve | Yves Bonnefoy (1953)

Du mouvement et de l’immobilité de Douve, Yves Bonnefoy, 1953

I saw you running on the terraces,
I saw you fight against the wind,
The coldness bled on your lips.

And I have seen you break and rejoice at being dead – O more beautiful
Than the lightning, when it stains the white windowpanes of your blood.


Adorned for a festival in the void,
Teeth bared as if for love,

Fountain of my death living unbearable.


Douve speaks

Silenced that voice which shouted to my face
That we are stranded and apart,
Walled up those eyes: and I hold Douve dead
In the rasping self locked with me again.

And however great the coldness rising from you,
However searing the ice of our embrace,
Douve, I do speak in you; and I clasp you
In the act of knowing and of naming.


What word springs up beside me,
What cry is forming on an absent mouth?
I hardly hear this cry against me,
I hardly feel that breath saying my name.

And yet the cry comes from myself,
I am walled up in my extravagance,
What divine or what strange voice
Would have agreed to live in my silence?


I would cry, I would meet the wind face on…
Why hate, why weep, I was alive,
The deep summer, day would reassure me.


I would long for summer,
A furious summer to dry my tears,
Then came this cold which grew in my limbs,
And I was awakened and I suffered.


So we will walk among the ruins of a boundless sky,
The horizon will unfold
Like a destiny in the quickened light.


The arm you lift, suddenly, at a doorway, lights me across the ages

Village of embers, each instant I see you being born, Douve,
Each instant dying.


Shaking your hair or Phoenix’s ashes,
What motion do you make when everything stops,

And the inner midnight lights the tables?


What needs this heart which was only silence,
But words which are both sign and litany,

And like a sudden bit of fire at night,
Or the table, glimpsed in a poor man’s house?


But let her be silent, the one still keeping watch
At the hearth, her face having fallen in the flames,
Who yet remains seated, being bodiless.

Who speaks for me, her lips being shut
Who gets up and calls me, being without flesh
Who goes away leaving her head half-sketched,

Who laughs still, in laughter dead long since.

Du mouvement et de l’immobilité de Douve, Yves Bonnefoy, 1953

Yves Bonnefoy (1923 – 2016) a central figure in post-war French culture. Born in 1923, he has had a lifelong fascination with the problems of translation. Language, for him, is a visceral, intensely material element in our existence, and yet the abstract quality of words distorts the immediate, material quality of our contact with the world. This concern with what separates words from an essential truth hidden in objects involves him in wide-ranging philosophical and theological investigations of the spiritual and the sacred. But for all his intellectual drive and rigour, Bonnefoy’s poetry is essentially of the concrete and the tangible, and addresses itself to our most familiar and intimate experiences of objects and of each other.

In his first book of poetry, published in France in 1953, Bonnefoy reflects on the value and mechanism of language in a series of short variations on the life and death of a much loved woman, Douve.

1 thought on “On the motion and immobility of Douve | Yves Bonnefoy (1953)

  1. Σ’ έβλεπα να τρεχεις στους εξωστες
    Σ’ εβλεπα να μαχεσαι με τον ανεμο
    το κρυο να παγωνει στις φλεβες σου
    και σε ειδα να πεθαινεις και να χαιρεσαι που εισαι πεθαμενη
    Ω πιο ομορφη απο τον κεραυνο οταν αγγιζει
    τα λευκα τζαμια των παραθυριων με το αιμα σου
    Ο θανατος ηταν μια χωρα που αγαπουσες

    Περι κινησεως και ακινησιας της Ντουβ / Yves Bonnefoy / 1953 / μτφ Μηνάς Δημάκης / 1963


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