Yves Bonnefoy (translated by Emily Grosholz)


I went outside
To draw some water from the well, beside the trees,
And I was in the presence of another sky.
Gone the constellations of a moment before,
Three quarters of the firmament were empty,
The deepest blackness alone held sway there,
Except that on the left, above the horizon,
Mixed in the crown of trees,
There was a mass of glowing stars
Like a brazier, from which a coil of smoke rose.

I went inside
And re-opened the book upon the table.
Page after page,
There were only indecipherable signs,
Aggregates of forms that made no sense
Despite their vague recurrence,
And underneath a whiteness, an abyss
As if what we call spirit were falling there,
Quietly, like snow.
Nonetheless, I turned the pages.

Many years before,
On a train at dawn
Between Princeton Junction and Newark,
That’s to say, for me two accidental places,
Where two arrows from nowhere happened to fall,
The travellers were reading, silent
In the snowfall that swept the gray train windows.
And suddenly,
In an open newspaper one seat over,
A big photograph of Baudelaire,
A whole page
As if the sky emptied at the end of the world
In order to consent to the disorder of words.

I compared this dream and this memory
As I walked, at first throughout an autumn
In woods where soon enough the snow
Triumphed, in many of those signs
That we receive, contradictory,
From a world devastated by language.
The conflict of two principles resolved,
It seemed to me, two lights commingled.
The edges of the wound were closed.
The white mass of the cold fell in great heaps
Over color, except for a distant roof, a painted
Plank, set up against a fence,
There was still color, as mysterious
As he who might have walked out of the tomb and,
Said “No, don’t touch me,” to the world.

Truly, I owe much to Hopkins Forest.
I keep it on my horizon, along the line
That abandons the visible for the invisible
Where the blue of distance shimmers.
I hear it, across other sounds, and even sometimes,
In summer, pushing my feet through dead leaves from
Other years, pale in the shadow
Of oak trees crowded together among the stones,
I stop, I think the ground has opened
Onto the infinite, that these leaves fall here
Unhurrying, or indeed mount, for high and low
No longer exist, nor sound, except for the soft
Whispering of snowflakes, that soon
Multiply, draw near together, knot.
- And I see then that other sky,
I enter for a moment into the great snow.

from Beginning and End of the Snow (Bucknell UP 2012). By permission.
Image, Mirja Paljakka. By permission.