Sur le pas

Year: 1959

Author: André du Bouchet (1924 - 2001)

Artist: Pierre Tal-Coat (1905 - 1985)

Publisher: Maeght éditeur

Sur le pas, title page with frontispice (p. [4-5])

André du Bouchet was not only a poet, but also a master translator of difficult authors like Joyce, Faulkner and Celan. He graduated from the renowned American university Harvard and was exposed to other languages from a very early age. Not only did this stimulate his translations, but it also made him poetically sensitive to the strangeness of words, of their rhythm, sound and meaning. In his poems, he would always seek out the confrontation with the feeling of alienation that is native to language.

Du Bouchet's 'pace'

With his own poems in Sur le pas, André du Bouchet took an important step towards a recognisable poetic voice. The theme of the (foot)step or 'pace' is the overarching metaphor with which he attempts to express the very strangeness of language. Words like way ('route', 'voie' and 'marche') recur frequently in his lines of verse, just like words that refer to abstract spaces such as air, earth and land ('air', 'terre' and 'pays').

Je conserve le souvenir de la rosée sur

cette route où je ne me trouve pas. -

dans le désespoir du vent qui renoue.

[I keep the memory of the dew on this road where I am not. - in the despair of the wind that renews.]

Du Bouchet's 'pace' therefore refers not only to the rhythmical basis of poetry, but also to the transgressive and nomadic aspects of language employed by poetry. It will surprise nobody that it is the poet, or rather the act of creating poetry, that continuously moves through the space 'en passant'. Du Bouchet thereby illustrates that empty spaces also 'speak' by way of the margins and the white spaces between the words and the lines. His unusual sentences and contradictory word combinations also contribute to making his poetry an exciting trajectory that makes one think.


Due to his close collaboration with painters he had befriended such as Giacometti, Bram van Velde, but mostly Pierre Tal-Coat, Du Bouchet's poems gained an additional dimension. Du Bouchet loved painting that balanced on the edge of abstraction, and Tal-Coat excelled at that. Painter Pierre Jacob, who was originally from Brittany, was over twenty years older than Du Bouchet. In 1926, he decided to adopt the name Tal-Coat as a pseudonym in order to avoid being confused with painter and poet Max Jacob. Tal-Coat first met Du Bouchet around 1948. They would spend a great deal of time as friends working together and exchanging ideas about poetry and painting.


A light-blue slipcase protects this edition of Sur le pas, with sixteen original aquatints and nine poems in a bright-yellow cover with a black painting that suggests (foot)steps. The deluxe edition was published by gallery and publisher Maeght. Its unusual size (of 42 cm!) is striking at first sight. Because of the 'space' theme, this large size was undoubtedly also something Du Bouchet and Tal-Coat had desired specifically. Tal-Coat's aquatints – in expressive colours and two-page spreads – in Sur le pas 'breathe' through Du Bouchet's margins and white lines, as though they represent the poems' lungs.

The rooster on the fish

The paper on which the illustrations and text are printed is hand-made Richard de Bas. This paper is produced in the eponymous paper mill in the Auvergne (France). Attentive readers will notice two unusual watermarks, namely: a rooster on a fish, and the name Richard de Bas with a crossed-out heart and the year 1326 above it. That was the year when the mill of this unique paper mill, which is still active to this day, first became operational.

Bibliographical description

Bibliography: Sur le pas / André du Bouchet ; [aquatintes originales de] Pierre Tal-Coat ; – Paris: Maeght éditeur, 1959. - [57] p. : ill. ; 42 cm

Printer: Fequet et Baudier (text), Crommelynck (original watercolours)

Edition: 200 copies

This copy: Number 119 of 200 on Auvergne Richard-de-Bas

Typeface: Elzévir Caslon

Note: Signed by the author and the artist

Bibliography: Bénézit 13-441 ; Monod 3956

Shelfmark: KW Koopm E 59


  • Michael Bishop, 'André du Bouchet et l'autre de l'esthétique: Segers, Poussin, Tal-Coat', in: Philippe Met, André du Bouchet et ses autres. Paris, Lettres Modernes Minard, 2003, p. 109-127
  • Michael Bishop, 'Tal-Coat: écart et réciprocité, silence et reconnaissance', in: Altérités d'André du Bouchet. Amsterdam, Rodopi, 2003, p. 73-81
  • Pierre Chappuis, André du Bouchet. Paris, Seghers, 1979
  • Raymond Cogniat, 'Tal-Coat', in: George Besson, Desnoyer, Walch, Tal-Coat, Pignon, Gruber, Fougeron. Souillac (Lot.), Mulhouse, 1947, p. 21-27
  • Michel Collot, Autour de André du Bouchet: actes du colloque des 8, 9, 10 décembre 1983. Paris, Presses de l'École Normale Supérieure, 1986
  • Jacques Depreux, André du Bouchet ou la parole traversée. Seyssel, Champ Vallon, 1988
  • Henri Maldiney, 'Introduction à Tal-Coat', in: Les temps modernes 5 (1949), p. 988-1008
  • Yves Peyré, 'Pierre Tal-Coat et le livre', in: Revue de la Bibliothèque Nationale, 5 (1985) 18, p. 12-17