Lost Without Translation: Yves Bonnefoy in Conversation with Hoyt Rogers
Under the flakes, a door opens at last
On the garden beyond the world.
I set out. But my scarf
Snags on a rusty nail,
And the cloth of my dreams is torn.
“The Garden,” by Yves Bonnefoy; translated from the French by Hoyt Rogers
In Second Simplicity: New Poetry and Prose, 1991-2011, acclaimed translator Hoyt Rogers offers a selection from the past twenty years of writing by Yves Bonnefoy, who at the age of 88 is often hailed as the greatest living French poet. The title, which Rogers borrowed from an earlier Bonnefoy work, refers to the distilled style of these works of poetry and prose: as Bonnefoy explains, the word “second,” alludes to a “second thought” that is characterized by greater depth and clarity.
In an illuminating conversation between the poet and translator available on the new Margellos World Republic of Letters site, Rogers and Bonnefoy describe this notion of a “second simplicity” as one very much inspired by the worlds the poet inhabits. Rogers writes in a piece for the Poetry Society of America that the time Bonnefoy spent in New England facilitated a shift towards “a pared-down aesthetic”; the poet himself remarks that he sees the same process of refining at work in certain examples of Baroque church architecture, which sought to leave excess ornamentation behind in the hope of reclaiming the “primal intuition” behind their structures. Indeed, this idea of space informing poetic style appears explicitly in a phrase from the prose poem “Remarks on the Horizon,” in which Bonnefoy writes of, “The blue of distance also in our words, like the meaning dreamed in what was said.”
Bonnefoy is an accomplished translator himself, well known for his French editions of Shakespeare, Keats, and Yeats, so he and Rogers have much to say on the topic of transferring works from one language to another. Rather than relying on literal meanings, both men try to recreate the original impulse of the poem in their translations. Thus, Rogers explains, those subtleties that are inevitably “lost in translation” are replaced by new complexities authentic to the sense of the original work. In Second Simplicity, Rogers’ English translations capture these new, authentic complexities—and, running side-by-side with Bonnefoy’s original French, they give the reader an opportunity to observe both a master poet and a master translator at work.