Provisionality and the Poem: Transition in the Work of du Bouchet, Jaccottet and Noël

Provisionality and the Poem: Transition in the Work of du Bouchet, Jaccottet and Noël

Provisionality and the Poem: Transition in the Work of du Bouchet, Jaccottet and Noël

Provisionality and the Poem: Transition in the Work of du Bouchet, Jaccottet and Noël


Much poetic writing in France in the post-1945 period is set in an elemental landscape and expressed through an impersonal poetic voice. It is therefore often seen as primarily spatial and cut off from human concerns. This study of three poets, Andre du Bouchet, Philippe Jaccottet and Bernard Noel, who have not been compared before, argues that space is inseparable from time in their work, which is always in transition. The different ways in which the provisional operates in their writing show the wide range of forms that modern poetry can take: an insistence on the figure of the interval, hesitant movement, or exuberant impulse. As well as examining the imaginative universes of the poets through close attention to the texts, this book considers the important contribution they have made in their prose writing to our understanding of the visual arts and poetry translation, in themselves transitional activities. It argues that these writers have, in different ways, succeeded in creating poetic worlds that attest to close and constantly changing contact with the real. Emma Wagstaff teaches French literature at Trinity College, Cambridge.


La poésie se poursuit dans l’espace de la parole, mais chaque pas en est
vérifiable dans le monde réaffirmé.

Yves Bonnefoy asserts here that poetry has a connection to the real. Writing may take the form of words on a page, laid out in printed space, but it is not simply a system of signs divorced from the things they evoke. Bonnefoy does not insist that words represent the world, but that they exist in a dependent relationship with reality. Poetry recreates the world on the page; the real, meanwhile, keeps a check on language.

Bonnefoy belongs to a generation of poets writing in French, many of whom are still working, who began publishing after the Second World War. Their poetry is often described as metaphysical, because it aims at approaching Being, at evoking the encounter between the self and reality; it does not express the sentiments of an individual subject. the speaking voice has become depersonalised, which means that there is room for the resistant presence of reality in the text. the human subject is not absent, but comes up against the world continually, perceives it and acts within it. Bonnefoy employs the word “pas” to describe the progress of poetic creativity. Every utterance is a step towards the world, taken in recognition that Being might be approached, but never attained. the movement itself is the goal of poetry, because each step is measured against the real and brings it into being on the page. Movement is of central importance to post-war poetry, even in texts that are primarily spatial.

The written poetry of the period is often original in its use of space. Sometimes criticised for publishing hermetic poetry, writers achieve many of the effects deemed to obscure understanding by exploiting the space of the page. Images might be juxtaposed without narrative, context or obvious links, through careful positioning of text on the page. When there appears to be no overall control of the poem’s progression, when multiple meanings are projected and no precedence granted to any single interpretation, the text comes to generate its own significance rather than reflecting an individual’s

Yves Bonnefoy, L’Improbable (Paris: Mercure de France, 1980), p. 130.

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