Born in Tours, the son of a railway worker and educated there, specializing in mathematics and philosophy. Studied at Poitiers with a view to becoming a mathematician, but deflected from so doing by the poetic interests he developed on removing to Paris in 1943, stimulated primarily by the poetry of Paul Éluard and by the company of Surrealist painters whom he knew. Read very widely and was led to abandon pure Surrealism by reading Shestov Potestas Clavium. Spent the years 1947-52 writing the poems for his first volume Du Mouvement et de l'immobilité de Douve ( 1953) which brought him immediate fame. Married his first wife in 1953 but later separated from her. Studied philosophy with Gaston Bachelard and wrote a dissertation on Baudelaire and Kierkegaard. Gradually allowed his interest in mathematics to decline. Visited Italy and was profoundly impressed by early Italian Renaissance art. Later studied French Gothic art and Italian Baroque art; began to translate Shakespeare into French. Has been a professor at the Universities of Geneva, Vincennes and Nice. Recently appointed Professor of Poetics at the Collège de France.
No French poet to have emerged since the end of the Second World War has made a greater impact than Yves Bonnefoy. On the publication in 1953 of his first volume of poems, Bonnefoy provoked a critical reaction in France comparable to that which had greeted Valéry La Jeune Parque in 1917, and since then the many-sidedness of his activity has made analogies with Valéry, and beyond him Baudelaire, almost