Yves Bonnefoy, 'one of 20th century's greatest poets', dies, aged 93

Yves Bonnefoy
Yves Bonnefoy RT

French President François Hollande has hailed "one of the greatest poets of the 20th century" - Yves Bonnefoy, who died on Friday at the age of 93. Writer, essayist and poet, Bonnefoy was the author of more than 100 book and had been tipped for the Nobel poetry prize several times.


Bonnefoy was  "a total artist, curious about the world and all its arts, generous with his time and his talent", Hollande said in a statement Saturday after the Collège de France, where he was an honorary professor, announced the writer's death in Paris.

He was well-known to poetry lovers in Italy, Germany, Switzerland and the English-speaking world and translated Shakespeare, Yeats, Petrarch and Greek poet George Seferis, who was a friend.

Bonnefoy was born in Tours, central France, to a railworker father and schoolteacher mother and had fond memories of summers with his grandparents in south-west France.

Arriving in Paris after World War II, he associated with the late surrealists but changed style and medium in 1953 with his first poetry collection Du mouvement et de l'immobilite de Douve (On the motion and immobility of Douve).

He continued writing into his 80s and won several prizes, including France's prestigious Goncourt in 1987.

He was also well-known as an art critic and essayist.

"What saddens me is to see that our education system does not give poetry the place it deserves," he told French radio in a recent interview. "Everything around us can serve as an inspiration for poetry."

Yves Bonnefoy - a life in dates
  • 24 June 1923: Born in Tours, central France, to Élie Bonnefoy and Hélène Maury;
  • 1943: Moves permanently to Paris after graduating from Poitiers University and the Sorbonne;
  • 1945-47: Works with surrealists;
  • 1947: Breaks with surrealists after refusing to sign a manifesto;
  • 1949-53: Travels to Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom on a grant, writes thesis on Baudelaire and Kierkegaard, now destroyed;
  • 1953: Publishes first poetry collection, Du mouvement et de l'immobilité de Douve;
  • 1954: Publishes first work of art criticism on Gothic murals in France;
  • 1955: Makes film Royaumes de ce monde with screenwriter Roger Livet on the annunciation in painting;
  • 1978: Anthology Poèmes brings together three volumes of poetry published in 1958, 1965 and 1975;
  • 1960 onwards: Invited to lecture at universities around the world, including Vincennes, Nice, Aix-en-Provence, Geneva;
  • 1966-72: Works on magazine L’Ephémère;
  • 2007: Composer Thierry Machuel uses some of his poetry in an oratorio L'Encore Aveugle;
  • 1 July 2016: Dies in Paris at the age of 93.

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