French Book Week: POEMS by Yves Bonnefoy, translated by Anthony Rudolf, John Naughton & Stephen Romer

leopardi’s tomb

So many fingers have been singed,

Sifting ashes in the Phoenix-nest;

But he could harvest all this light

Only by assenting to all this night.

And his trusting words never raised

Some onyx chalice to a blackened sky.

Their palms joined to cup your face,

Mirrored in earthly water, O moon:

His friend. He offers you this cup,

And you lean down, you consent

To drink from his yearning hope.

I see you roam beside him on these lonely hills,

His native land. At times you move ahead; you turn

Around to him and laugh. At times, you’re his shadow.

le tombeau de giacomo leopardi

Dans le nid de Phénix combien se sont

Brûlé les doigts à remuer des cendres!

Lui, c’est de consentir à tant de nuit

Qu’il dut de recueillir tant de lumière.

Et ils ont élevé, ses mots confiants,

Non le quelconque onyx vers un ciel noir

Mais la coupe formée par leurs deux paumes

Pour un peu d’eau terrestre et ton reflet,

Ô lune, son amie. Il t’offre de cette eau,

Et toi penchée sur elle, tu veux bien

Boire de son désir, de son espérance.

Je te vois qui vas près de lui sur ces collines

Désertes, son pays. Parfois devant

Lui, et te retournant, riante; parfois son ombre.


mahler, the song of the earth

She comes out; but night hasn’t fallen yet,

Or else it’s the moon that fills the sky.

She walks, but also melts away: nothing

Is left of her face – nothing but her song.

Desire to be, you must renounce yourself:

This is what the things of earth demand –

So trustingly, that each of them reflects

The shimmering peace of this dream.

She moves forward, and you grow old.

Keep advancing, under interwoven trees,

And you’ll glimpse each other, now and then.

O music of words, utterance of sound,

Bend your steps toward each other as a sign

Of complicity, at last … and of regret.

mahler, le chant de l a terre

Elle sort, mais la nuit n’est pas tombée,

Ou bien c’est que la lune emplit le ciel,

Elle va, mais aussi elle se dissipe,

Plus rien de son visage, rien que son chant.

Désir d’être, sache te renoncer,

Les choses de la terre te le demandent,

Si assurées sont-elles, chacune en soi

Dans cette paix où miroite du rêve.

Qu’elle, qui va, et toi, qui vieillis, continuez

Votre avancée sous le couvert des arbres,

À des moments vous vous apercevrez.

Ô parole du son, musique des mots,

Tournez alors vos pas l’une vers l’autre

En signe de connivence, encore, et de regret.

By Yves Bonnefoy

Translated by Anthony Rudolf, John Naughton & Stephen Romer

Poems from Poems, published by Carcanet, 2017.

Thank you to Carcanet for allowing us to publish these extracts.

Watch to the editors of the book discussing it:


Yves Bonnefoy (1923-2016), regarded as France’s greatest poet of the last fifty years, was the author of many volumes of poetry and poetic prose, and numerous books of essays on literature and art, including studies of Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Goya and Giacometti. Between 1981 and 2016 he was Professor (and then Emeritus Professor) of Comparative Poetics at the Collège de France, a position he inherited from Roland Barthes. His work has been translated into scores of languages and he himself was a master translator of Shakespeare, Yeats, Keats, Leopardi, Seferis and others. He received a wide variety of literary prizes.


Anthony Rudolf is a poet and the translator of books of poetry from French, Russian and other languages. He was associated with Bonnefoy for more than half a century. He founded Menard Press in 1969, now dormant after nearly 50 years and 170 titles. He is Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2004), Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (2005) and Fellow of the English Association (2010). His collected poems, European Hours, was published by Carcanet in 2017.


John Naughton is Harrington and Shirley Drake Professor of the Humanities at Colgate University. He has authored or edited seven books in the area of modern French poetry, including The Poetics of Yves Bonnefoy (1984) and Shakespeare and the French Poet (2004). His translations have been honoured by the British Poetry Book Society and by the Modern Language Association. He has received the medal of the Collège de France in Paris for ‘distinguished contributions to the study of French literature’.


Stephen Romer is a poet and the translator of Bonnefoy’s prose book L’Arrière-pays (1972/2012). He has served as Maître de conférences at the University of Tours since 1991. His anthology of twentieth-century French poems was published by Faber in 2002. His poetry collections include Tribute, Idols and Yellow Studio. His latest collection, Set Thy Love in Order: New and Selected Poems, was published by Carcanet in 2017.

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