André du Bouchet’s Poetry as Thought

Clément Layet, tr. Peter Behrman de Sinéty

André du Bouchet’s poetry seems written in response to a blow. His life was indeed particularly marked by pain – his father’s madness experienced daily during his childhood in France (1924-1929), his family’s exile as they fled anti-Semitic Europe for the United States during World War II (1940-1948), the brutal end to his union with the mother of his first two children (1957) a few years after his return to France. However, from the moment he decided to be a poet, during his time in the United States, André du Bouchet never tried to circumscribe or name a particular source of pain – but simply to face the conditions of existence in general.

Two moments of connection never cease to alternate in the structure of his experience. First, a link forms with things, in the sudden attention focused on their apparition. But the knot slips, the focus disperses, its embers no sooner lit than carried off by space and time. At each instant, perception, thought and the entirety of nature in motion project particulars onto a general plane. No description in language could show this disintegration as it is. Thought can only swing round to face this ravishment, speech project itself against its vector, generality shoot back as if against itself. Each perceived moment recedes to the infinite number of moments of which it could be the metaphor.

If the link formed by attention always vanishes, the link formed in language never consolidates. The poem’s words build nothing stable in the imagination. Only a few lines, transcribed while walking, taken up again, altered, severed from their initial occasion, cut, reassembled, stand in for a fired arrow. But through the blanks of a page which are a counterpart to the frame in which life unfurls, words hurled against the forces that annihilate them enter into a relation with these forces all the same.

From his first poems written in the 1950s to his last collection, Tumulte, published in 2001, André du Bouchet never ceased to seek a word that could correspond to destructive generalization without letting itself be dominated by it: a word that would show the weaving and severing of all ties, but which would itself be a tie, a living relation to the unbearable.

Thus André du Bouchet’s word is neither poetic, if we take that in the sense of a pleasing language rich in images, nor philosophical, if we expect of philosophy a conceptual demarcation. Rather, as if after having been pent up in a poetry too beautiful, or a philosophy purged of all experience, his word comes to record the poetry and philosophy of thought in general.

A poetry arcing in all its length towards the essence of the world, of nature, of time as they live in human thought and always exceed it – without ever supposing that these essences might have the least immutable consistency, without ever seeking to extract from them a knowledge other than the one that renews itself at each instant. Instead his poetry reveals and impresses upon us the double nature of these essences, that they are shaped by the mind’s reach for what they are, and yet lie beyond any grasp of thought.

Poetry arcing towards the essence of thought.

Word lying in wait for event, lurking to catch it in its own freedom.

Event set free by the human animal which lets itself be captured.

At the instant when the uttermost tension of the mind snaps, the mind, in as much as it is spared from madness, immediately re-forms a link, a counterpart to the very first, with the rawness, the cruelty of everything that appears.

Thus in André du Bouchet’s poetry the cycle of life and death, of organization and disintegration, unto death, towards life, never ceases to offer itself to speech and to abscond from it.

The word “painting”, which can also be understood in this sense, then becomes its other name.


"Painting", a translation by Stephen Romer of André du Bouchet's poem, appears in this issue of The Battersea Review. It can be found here.

CLÉMENT LAYET was born in Le Havre on May 29th, 1978. After having devoted a master’s thesis in philosophy to André du Bouchet’s poetic work, he met him in February 2000. He is the author of an introduction to an anthology of André du Bouchet’s poetry (Seghers, 2002). He has collected André du Bouchet’s essays written during the 1950s (Aveuglante ou banale: essais sur la poésie 1949-1959, Paris, Le Bruit du temps, 2011) and transcribed the notebooks of the same period (Une lampe dans la lumière aride: carnets 1949-1955, Paris, Le Bruit du temps, 2011). He has also translated Martin Heidegger (De l'origine de l’œuvre d'art - première version, Paris, Rivages, 2014) and Friedrich Hölderlin (C'est là une tout autre clarté - Fête de la paix et huit autres poèmes, Bordeaux, William Blake & Co, 2014).