New Portrait of Anna de Noailles

March 28, 2013 at 12:07 pm (Cocteau, Poetry, Thevenax)

noailles  Poertrait

This portrait of the esteemed French poet Anna de Noailles was created in what appears to be charcoal crayon by the Swiss-born artist Paul Thévenaz (1891-1921) in the early 1900s. The copy seen here is an enlargement reproduced from its presentation in the August 1916 issue of the American arts and entertainment magazine Vanity Fair.  The portrait, in a highly angular style tending to an almost cubistic approach and very representative of the work of Thévenaz, was featured in the Vanity Fair article by Marie Louise Van Saanen who wrote of the artist’s theory of ‘Rythmatism’, a concept concerning the relationship between sculpture, painting, dance, and, more exactly, the music created for the dance.  Thévenaz was first a dancer.  His talents in painting and drawing developed simultaneously with his interests in movement and dancing when he left Geneva and moved to Paris.

Along with the seductively exotic portrait of Noailles, the magazine article also included three other portraits by Thévenaz, those of Igor Stravinsky, Jean Cocteau, and Comtesse Etienne de Beaumont, great patron of the avant-garde in art and music.  The artist was an intimate of Cocteau and intensely exchanged ideas with his friend Stravinsky.  He came to the United States after World War One and died very unexpectedly in New York in 1921 of a ruptured appendix.  In America’s New York City he was known in the circle of creative geniuses huddling there at the time, such creators as Witter Bynner, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Aaron Copeland.  His focus as his life and art progressed tended toward the decorative arts, and he was sought after for his interior designs, his portraiture, his work as a muralist and as a set and costume designer.  His commissions in these aspects were often from the rich and famous and some of his most enduring work rests in those genres. His Noailles portrait is a fine example of his gifts.  Thévenaz owned his own portion of personal exoticism and was capable, no doubt, of focusing on that characteristic in others, no matter their gender or the genre of their genius.

The location of the original of the poet’s portrait copied here is not readily known.  A reproduction of it was not included in the posthumous tribute to the artist and his work privately printed in an edition of 1,000 copies: Paul Thévenaz: a Record of His Life and Art, Together with an Essay on Style, by the Artist, and Including 107 Reproductions of his Drawings, Paintings & Decorative Work ([New York] : Privately Printed, 1922.  The strié effect in this reproduction is perhaps more the result of photocopying from a 1916 magazine page in Vanity Fair rather than the artist’s technique.  The gravure process for printing art work in journals was less than perfect in 1916.

The poet Anna de Noailles appeared later (with a photograph) in Vanity Fair magazine as a nominee to the journal’s Hall of Fame, along with her also nominated friend, Marcel Proust, in the year 1923.

(provided by the site’s correspondent, Roger Hunt Carroll, American poet and translator)

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The Trace I wish to Leave by Anna de Noailles

December 14, 2012 at 7:49 pm (Poetry, Uncategorized)

L’Empreinte

The Trace I wish to Leave

I aim to thrust myself against this life so hard,
And clasp it to me fiercely, leaving such a trace,
That when the sweetness of these days I must discard
The world will keep awhile the warmth of my embrace.

The sea, spread out across the globe so lavishly,
On stormy days my fitful memory will sustain,
And in its myriad, random motions ceaselessly
Preserve the acrid, salty, savour of my pain.

What will be left of me in heath and windswept coomb?
My blazing eyes will set the yellow gorse on fire,
And the cicada perched upon a sprig of broom
Will sound the depth and poignancy of my desire.

Each spring, in emerald meadows where the skylark sings,
In lanes and wayside ditches where wild flowers grow,
The tufted  grass will tremble at the touch of unseen wings,
The phantoms of my hands that held them long ago.

My joy and restless passion will not die with me,
Nature will breathe me in, making of me a part
Of all that lives, while sorrowing humanity
Will hold the individual profile of my heart.

Anna de Noailles

Click here to hear the poem read in French by Julia Slade
L’Empreinte   

L’Empreinte

Je m’appuierai si bien et si fort à la vie,
D’une si rude étreinte et d’un tel serrement,
Qu’avant que la douceur du jour me soit ravie
Elle s’échauffera de mon enlacement.

La mer, abondamment sur le monde étalée,
Gardera, dans la route errante de son eau,
Le goût de ma douleur qui est âcre et salée
Et sur les jours mouvants roule comme un bateau.

Je laisserai de moi dans le pli des collines
La chaleur de mes yeux qui les ont vu fleurir,
Et la cigale assise aux branches de l’épine
Fera vibrer le cri strident de mon désir.

Dans les champs printaniers la verdure nouvell
Et le gazon touffu sur le bord des fossés
Sentiront palpiter et fuir comme des ailes
Les ombres de mes mains qui les ont tant pressés.

La nature qui fut ma joie et mon domaine
Respirera dans l’air ma persistante ardeur,
Et sur l’abattement de la tristesse humaine
Je laisserai la forme unique de mon cœur…

Anna de Noailles 

 

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Anna de Noailles : Eight Poems translated by Sebastian Hayes

June 30, 2012 at 12:00 pm (Literary Criticism, Philosophy, Poetry, Uncategorized)

The Trace I wish to Leave
I aim to thrust myself against this life so hard,
And clasp it to me fiercely, leaving such a trace,
That when the sweetness of these days I must discard
The world will keep awhile the warmth of my embrace.

The sea, spread out across the globe so lavishly,
On stormy days my fitful memory will sustain,
And in its myriad, random motions ceaselessly
Preserve the acrid, salty, savour of my pain.

What will be left of me in heath and windswept coomb?
My blazing eyes will set the yellow gorse on fire,
And the cicada perched upon a sprig of broom
Will sound the depth and poignancy of my desire.

Each spring, in emerald meadows where the skylark sings,
In lanes and wayside ditches where wild flowers grow,
The tufted  grass will tremble at the touch of unseen wings,
The phantoms of my hands that held them long ago.

My joy and restless passion will not die with me,
Nature will breathe me in, making of me a part
Of all that lives, while sorrowing humanity
Will hold the individual profile of my heart.
Anna de Noailles

Click here to hear the poem read in French by Julia Slade.
L’Empreinte

L’Empreinte

Je m’appuierai si bien et si fort à la vie,
D’une si rude étreinte et d’un tel serrement,
Qu’avant que la douceur du jour me soit ravie
Elle s’échauffera de mon enlacement.

La mer, abondamment sur le monde étalée,
Gardera, dans la route errante de son eau,
Le goût de ma douleur qui est âcre et salée
Et sur les jours mouvants roule comme un bateau.

Je laisserai de moi dans le pli des collines
La chaleur de mes yeux qui les ont vu fleurir,
Et la cigale assise aux branches de l’épine
Fera vibrer le cri strident de mon désir.

Dans les champs printaniers la verdure nouvell
Et le gazon touffu sur le bord des fossés
Sentiront palpiter et fuir comme des ailes
Les ombres de mes mains qui les ont tant pressés.

La nature qui fut ma joie et mon domaine
Respirera dans l’air ma persistante ardeur,
Et sur l’abattement de la tristesse humaine
Je laisserai la forme unique de mon cœur…

Anna de Noailles

The Soul and the Body

The soul was first conceived in order to demean
The body, the domain of dreams and reasoning,
Sole source of our desire, of all that’s heard and seen,
For when it stops, it brings the close of everything.

They foist the soul upon us, so we cannot see
What’s underneath our feet, and in our cowardice
Deny our squalid end, the grim reality
That when the wine is drunk, there’s nothing but the lees.

O shattered bodies, eyes whose fire is at an end,
I shall not now commit the shameful  treachery
Against your greatness and your beauty to pretend
That you are as you were for all eternity.

No. I refuse all hope, distrust sublimity,
I am a stranger to your world, and  I invite
The chill of your ignoble tombs, so mean, so small,
For I declare, on contemplating that vast night,
That once our blood is cold, it is the end of all.

Anna de Noailles 

   

            L’Ame et le Corps

Ils ont inventé l’âme afin que l’on abaisse
Le corps, unique lieu de rêve et de raison,
Asile du désir, de l’image et des sons,
Et par qui tout est mort dès le moment qu’il cesse.

Ils nous imposent l’âme, afin que lâchement
On détourne les yeux du sol, et qu’on oublie
Après l’injurieux ensevelissement,
Que sous le vin vivant tout est funèbre lie.

— Je ne commettrai pas envers votre bonté
Envers votre grandeur, secrète mais charnelle,
O corps désagrégés, o confuses prunelles,
La trahison de croire à votre éternité.

Je refuse l’espoir, l’altitude, les ailes,
Mais étrangère au monde et souhaitant le froid
De vos affreux tombeaux, trop bas, trop étroits,
J’affirme, en recherchant vos nuits vastes et vaines,
Qu’il n’est rien qui survive à la chaleur des veines !

Anna de Noailles

Life-Force

I have the taste for what is ardent and intense,
Delirious crowds and bodies, a heroic role
In life, such bitter, acrid smells are like incense
To my tumultuous heart and my excessive soul.

From mundane tasks and cares I languish to be free,
Oh to be living now amidst the pent-up might
Of storm and spray, inhale the odour of the sea,
And breathe the morning air that silences the night.

Dawn breaks, the dazzled world returns to life again,
Birds sing, a clamour rises from the street below,
A thousand bustling noises fill my waking brain,
I am a canvas sail the wind swings to and fro.

To fill like this the days that lead towards the tomb,
Bearing a heart that’s swollen like a mellow fruit,
And leaves its juice and scent to beautify the room,
The mark of one who was in pleasure resolute.

To see spread out before me all that life can yield,
And clasp it to me fiercely like an infant boy
Hugging an unknown beast discovered in a field,
Who, ev’n when bitten, bloodstained, still is mad with joy.

To steel oneself for happiness, hand, will and eye,
Scaling the heights and depths of what the heart can bear,
To risk one’s all and the assaults of time defy,
To breathe the sharp and heady Himalayan air ;

To strive to emulate the wheeling sun and moon,
Monarch of golden day and night-time’s silvery queen,
To live as spumes of spray whipped up by a typhoon
Or be the unyielding thorn upon a wind-lashed green.

Sorrow and joy are lifelong comrades travelling home,
My heart reverberates to their pulsating call,
I am an emerald lawn where mating lions roam,
Upon my lips there is the taste of honey and of gall.

And finally I celebrate that ecstasy
Of dying in full strength within the midst of  strife,
Because desire exceeds my frame’s capacity,
And what I have inside me bursts the bonds of life.

                                        Anna de Noailles

              The Aftermath

Above all, after climaxes the most intense
In our close-knit uniting, frenzied, barbarous,
Reclining side by side, gasping for breath, I sense
The abyss that severs us;

In silence we recline, not understanding why,
After such pent-up fury, longed-for, deep, insane,
So suddenly we find ourselves apart and lie
As separate selves again;

You are beside me but your gaze does not reveal
That eagerness I answered with a fire unknown,
You are a helpless beast gorged with its meal,
A corpse sculpted in stone;

You sleep and do  not stir — how can another know
What dream has quieted your restless mind?
But through me yet great gusts of yearning blow
Leaving their mark behind;

I cannot cease from living, O my dearest love!
My warlike frenzy underneath its peaceful air
In desperation searches round me and above
To find a passage there!

And still you lie content! The throbbing ecstasy
Of sadness coursing through my limbs, and that profound
Confusion, nothing of all this in you I see.
My love, my only love! Between yourself and me
There is no common ground.
Anna de Noailles

My Offering to Nature

sustaining Nature from whom bosom all life springs,
None have adored you with such passion from their birth;
The light of days and all the tenderness of things,
The shining water and the dark and fruitful earth.

I lent against your beauty since my youth began;
Dark forests, mountain pools, the open fertile lands,
These touched my eyes more than the wandering looks of man,
I have the odour of the seasons on my hands.

Your suns I bore as glittering jewels on my brow,
With pride and innocence I answered to your charms,
Your autumn labours matched my childhood play, and how
I wept for joy when clasped within your summers’ arms.

I came to you most trustingly, wanting it so,
Denying sense and reason, be it for good or ill;
The recompense and prize I sought was just to know
Your fervent essence and your cunning animal will.

I am an open flower where bees can make their home,
My life has spread abroad perfume and song and dance,
My morning heart is like a basket filled with loam
And trailing boughs that blooms and foliage enhance.

Like water I reflect the overarching trees,
And willingly, at night, have yielded to that fire
That fills both beasts and men, inspiring without cease
A wild abandonment and a sublime desire.

I hold you breathing at my breast, Nature, my own!
And must I live with shadows and exchange all this
For that drear landscape, grassless, windless and unknown,
Where neither sun nor moon will shine and no love is ?

 Anna de Noailles

                   Regrets

Leave me among the graves, I wish to linger here,
The dead are in the ground, the day is bright and clear,
I smell sweet odours, water, leafy trees and hay,
The dead are in their death for ever and a day…
My dancing body will be hard to recognize
Quite soon, my temples cold, dark gaps instead of eyes;
Like them the solitary deed I shall perform
Though used to having by my side a body warm.
And all of this must cease ! all must expire!
Mouth, melting glances, kisses, my desire —
I shall become a thing of shadow, will be dumb
When next year’s spring, so green and rosy-cheeked will come,
An avalanche of  gold and mounting sap and dew !
Yet I who am so tender-hearted through and through,
So filled with idle hopes and dreams, so languorous,
No longer shall I greet the dawning of each day,
But motionless in sleep for evermore must stay !
Others I cannot know, happy and sensuous,
Young men with maidens at their sides will wander by
And see the labour in the fields, the corn, the vine,
The changing colours of the seasons, whereas I
Will notice nothing —  in the grave I shall recline,
And all the sweetness of this life will be a memory…
But you who read these lines will stop and think of me,
You’ll see what I once was before my glow departs;
My smiling ghost will comfort you in your ordeal
For, in your torpor and dejection, you will feel
That my cold cinders hold more passion than your hearts.

Anna de Noailles

               The Depths of Life

To grow in freedom as a human tree might grow,
Extending one’s desires to form a canopy,
To feel with one’s bare hands the universal flow
Of sap, in storm and quiet of evening equally.

We live if only sunbeams flit across our face,
So drink the fervid sea-foam mixed with many a tear,
Experience pain and pleasure with the self-same grace,
Vapours from humankind that fill the atmosphere!

To sense with all one’s might air, blood and fire,
Gyrating, swirling, like the African simoom,
Dare to confront the real, but reverence desire,
Be in the dawning day and in the approaching gloom.

As evening dons its purple, hemmed with scarlet frills,
Let flow from your red heart water and flame combined,
And like pale-fingered dawn pressing against the hills
Lie dreaming, at the margins of the world reclined …

Anna de Noailles

       Different Kinds of Pradise

Paradise is you, beautiful white cloud-laden sky,
Or you, empty expanse, so lively and demure,
Where green-leaved spreading branches cross and multiply
Like lettering, upright, sloping, flat, ornate or pure,

Spelling out some new masterpiece the world awaits,
A book in space, sweet-scented, melancholy, rare,
A mystical Koran whose wisdom celebrates
The eternal azure and the clear sidereal air.

And paradise is you, far ranging cumulus,
Robe of an absent deity, to whom a flood
Of worn out hopes and fears each day ascend from us,
Vapours of dead desires perfumed by our heart-blood.

You also, garden paths, sombre or debonair,
Given lustre by the sun, or by the morning breeze,
Where multi-coloured flowers let down their twisted hair,
And idly preen themselves in carefree sensual ease.

You also are a paradise, earth that will cover me,
A mute unthinking paradise of dust and clay,
When death at length destroys the languid mystery
That binds me, oh so gently, to the beauty of the day…

Anna de Noailles

                L’Exaltation

Le goût  de l’héroïque et du passionnel
Qui flotte autour des corps, des sons, des foules vives,
Touche avec la brûlure et la saveur du sel
Mon cœur tumultueux et mon âme excessive.

Loin des simples travaux et des soucis amers,
J’aspire hardiment la chaude violence
Qui souffle avec le bruit et l’odeur de la mer,
Je suis l’air matinal d’où s’enfuit le silence ;

L’aurore qui renaît dans l’éblouissement,
La nature, le bois, les houles de la rue
M’emplissent de leurs cris et de leurs mouvements ;
Je suis comme une voile où la brise se rue.

Ah ! vivre ainsi les jours qui mènent au tombeau,
Avoir le cœur gonflé comme le fruit qu’on presse
Et qui laisse couler son arome et son eau,
Loger l’espoir fécond et la claire allégresse !

Serrer entre ses bras le monde et ses désirs
Comme un enfant qui tient une bête retorse,
Et qui mordu, saignant, est ivre du plaisir
De sentir contre soi sa chaleur et sa force.

Accoutumer ses yeux, son vouloir et ses mains
À tenter le bonheur que le risque accompagne ;
Habiter le sommet des sentiments humains
Où l’air est âpre et vif comme sur la montagne.

Être ainsi que la lune et soleil levant
Les hôtes du jour d’or et de la nuit limpide ;
Être le bois touffu qui lutte dans le vent
Et les flots écumeux que l’ouragon dévide !

La joie et la douleur sont de grands compagnons,
Mon âme qui contient leurs battements farouches
Est comme une pelouse où marchent des lions…
J’ai le goût de l’azur et du vent dans la bouche.

Et c’est aussi l’extase et la pleine vigueur
Que de mourir un soir, vivace, inassouvie,
Lorsque le désir est plus large que le cœur
Et le plaisir plus rude et plus fort que la vie…

Anna de Noailles

       C’est après les moments…

C’ est après les moments les plus bouleversés
De l’étroite union acharnée et barbare,
Que, gisant côte a côte, et le front renversé
Je ressens ce qui nous sépare!

Tous deux nous nous taisons, ne sachant pas comment,
Après cette fureur souhaitée, et suprême,
Chacun de nous a pu, soudain et simplement,
Hélas! redevenir soi-même.

Vous êtes près de moi, je ne reconnais pas
Vos yeux qui me semblaient brûler sous mes paupières;
Comme un faible animal gorgé de son repas,
Comme un mort sculpté sur sa pierre,

Vous rêvez immobile, et je ne puis savoir
Quel songe satisfait votre esprit vaste et calme,
Et moi je sens encore un indicible espoir
Bercer sur moi ses jeunes palmes!

Je ne puis pas cesser de vivre, mon amour!
Ma guerrière folie, avec son masque sage,
Même dans le repos veut par mille détours
Se frayer encore un passage!

Et je vous vois content! Ma force nostalgique
Ne  surprend pas en vous ce muet désarroi
Dans lequel se débat ma tristesse extatique —
Que peut-il y avoir, ô mon amour unique,
De commun entre vous et moi!

Anna de Noailles

L’Offrande a la Nature

Nature au cœur profond sur qui les cieux reposent,
Nul n’aura comme moi si chaudement aimé,
La lumière des jours et la douceur des choses,
L’eau luisante et la terre où la vie a germé.

La forêt, les étangs et les plaines fécondes
Ont plus touché mes yeux que les regards humains,
Je me suis appuyé à la beauté du monde
Et j’ai tenu l’odeur des saisons dans mes mains.

J’ai porté vos soleils ainsi qu’une couronne
Sur mon front plein d’orgueil et de simplicité,
Mes jeux ont égalé les travaux de l’automne
Et j’ai pleuré d’amour aux bras de vos étés.

Je suis venue à vous sans peur et sans prudence
Vous donnant ma raison pour le bien et le mal,
Ayant pour toute joie et toute connaissance
Votre âme impétueuse aux ruses d’animal.

Comme une fleur ouverte où logent des abeilles
Ma vie a répandu des parfums et des chants,
Et mon cœur matineux est comme une corbeille
Qui vois offre du lierre et des rameaux penchants.

Soumise ainsi que l’onde où l’arbre se reflète,
J’ai connu des désirs qui brûlent dans vos soirs
Et qui font naître au cœur des hommes et des bêtes
La belle impatience et le divin vouloir.

Je vous tiens toute vive entre mes bras, Nature!
Ah! faut-il que mes yeux s’emplissent d’ombre un jour,
Et que j’aille au pays sans vent et sans verdure
Que ne visitent pas la lumière et l’amour…

Anna de Noailles

                      Regrets

Allez, je veux rester seule avec les tombeaux :
Les morts sont sous la terre et le matin est beau,
L’air a l’odeur de l’eau, de l’herbe, du feuillage,
Les morts sont dans la mort pour le reste de l’âge…
Un jour, mon corps dansant sera semblable à eux,
J’aurai l’air de leur front, le vide de leurs yeux,
J’accomplirai cet acte unique et solitaire,
Moi qui n’ai pas dormi seule, aux jours de la terre !
Tout ce qui doit mourir, tout ce qui doit cesser,
La bouche, le regard, le désir, le baiser !
Etre la chose d’ombre et l’être de silence
Tandis que le printemps vert et vermeil s’élance
Et monte trempé d’or, de sève et de moiteur !
Avoir eu comme moi le cœur si doux, le cœur
Plein de plaisir, d’espoir, de rêve, et de mollesse
Et ne plus s’attendrir de ce que l’aube cesse ;
Etre au fond du repos l’éternité du temps…
D’autres alors seront vivants, joyeux, contents,
Des hommes marcheront auprès des jeunes filles,
Ils verront des labeurs, des moissons, des faucilles,
La couleur délicate et changeante des mois.
Moi, je ne verrai plus, je serai morte, moi,
Je ne saurai plus rien de la douceur de vivre…
Mais ceux-là qui liront les pages de mon livre,
Sachant ce que mon âme et mes yeux ont été,
Vers mon ombre riante et pleine de clarté
Viendront, le cœur blessé de langueur et d’envie,
Car ma cendre sera plus chaude que leur vie…

Anna de Noailles

         La Vie Profonde

Etre dans la nature ainsi qu’un arbre humain,
Étendre ses désirs comme un profond feuillage,
Et sentir par la nuit paisible et par l’orage,
La sève universelle affluer dans ses mains !

Vivre, avec les rayons du soleil sur la face,
Boire le sel ardent des embruns et des pleurs,
Et goûter chaudement la joie et la douleur
Qui font une buée humaine dans l’espace !

Sentir, dans son cœur vif, l’air, le feu et le sang,
Tourbillonner ainsi que le vent sur la terre  —
S’élever au réel et pencher au mystère,
Être le jour qui monte et l’ombre qui descend.

Comme du pourpre soir aux couleurs de cerise,
Laisser du cœur vermeil couler la flamme et l’eau,
Et comme l’aube claire appuyée au coteau
Avoir l’âme qui rêve, au bord du monde assise…

Anna de Noailles

           Les Paradis

Le paradis, c’est vous, beaux cieux lourds de nuages,
Cieux vides, mais si vifs, si bons et si charmants,
Où les arbres, avec de longs et verts jambages,
Pointus, larges, légers, agités ou dormants,

Écrivent je ne sais quelle suprême histoire,
Quel livre de l’espace, odorant, triste et vain,
Quel mystique Koran, qui relate la gloire
De l’azur éternel et de l’éther divin.

Le paradis, c’est vous, voyageuse nuée,
Robe aux plis balancés d’un dieu toujours absent,
Vers qui montent sans fin, ardeur exténuée,
Les vapeurs du désir et le parfum du sang.

C’est vous le paradis, jardins gais ou maussades,
Lustrés par le soleil ou le vent du matin,
Où les fleurs de couleur déroulent leurs torsades,
Et jouissent en paix du sensuel instinct ;

Et c’est vous, sol poudreux, argileux, tiède terre,
Le paradis naïf et muet qui m’attend,
Lorsque la mort viendra rompre le mol mystère
Qui me lie, ô douceur ! à la beauté du temps…

Anna de Noailles

         L’Empreinte

Je m’appuierai si bien et si fort à la vie,
D’une si rude étreinte et d’un tel serrement,
Qu’avant que la douceur du jour me soit ravie
Elle s’échauffera de mon enlacement.

La mer, abondamment sur le monde étalée,
Gardera, dans la route errante de son eau,
Le goût de ma douleur qui est âcre et salée
Et sur les jours mouvants roule comme un bateau.

Je laisserai de moi dans le pli des collines
La chaleur de mes yeux qui les ont vu fleurir,
Et la cigale assise aux branches de l’épine
Fera vibrer le cri strident de mon désir.

Dans les champs printaniers la verdure nouvell
Et le gazon touffu sur le bord des fossés
Sentiront palpiter et fuir comme des ailes
Les ombres de mes mains qui les ont tant pressés.

La nature qui fut ma joie et mon domaine
Respirera dans l’air ma persistante ardeur,
Et sur l’abattement de la tristesse humaine
Je laisserai la forme unique de mon cœur…

Anna de Noailles


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Two Poems by Anna de Noailles rendered into English by Roger Hunt Carroll

November 20, 2010 at 11:58 am (Poetry)

L’HONNEUR DE SOUFFRIR XLVI

Time itself speeds by quickly enough,
though remainder days drag slowly on,
their dreary hauntings spread out on their own,
sealing lifeless peace in stilled desire.

Those who yet live sometimes sing of salvation
and a faint-filled shattering of false infinity’s door:
but nothing in human spheres owns perfection,
not hearts beating in desperation’s deadly overtime,

nor wildly wearing out until they can’t engage anything.
So it’s true: those utterly dead who’ve really gone aside,
not here anymore, give to our living barrenness
gifts of sight judged from their appointed place,

no matter what we decide from our clouded point of view.
They alone know the grace of consolation along the way —
only they know how it assuages all our dire display.

L’HONNEUR DE SOUFFRIR LXXXV

All things are, yet what exists owns nothing.
Everything known or unknown, even stars —
or more vast, exquisite mysteries —
dissolve in face of the fact of losing you.

The expanding universe is a mere stage design,
an empty, frivolously formed theater set
where my unyielding pulse now appearing there
has no power to throb your dead heart to life again.

Editor’s Note: These two pieces come from Variations by Roger Hunt Carroll (The Hague Press, 2009). The author is at pains to stress that these are not ‘translations’ in the normal sense of the word, but more ‘arrangements’ in the musical sense. He writes notably, “I place a poem in an alternate language as if in another musical key….amalgamating the impressions and distilling the experience” . S.H.

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Disappointment and Inadequacy: The Aftermath by Anna de Noailles

June 6, 2010 at 10:38 am (Literary Criticism, Philosophy, Poetry)

Photo of Anna de Noailles

Anna de Noailles

Whereas contemporary authors and scriptwriters concentrate obsessively on the trivial, or at best the entertaining, aspects of sex — and curiously this includes female authors with the honourable exception of  Camille Pagglia — the two great women poets of the early twentieth century, Edna St. Vincent Millay in America and Anna de Noailles in France, stressed its tragic aspects. Both women shocked or annoyed contemporary male opinions, though thankfully not enough to be rejected by publishers, because they dared to write seriously and, by and large, decorously about feminine emotional and physical needs. Despite in both cases being beautiful women very much in the public eye surrounded by countless male admirers, they were both, almost from the beginning, disappointed not so much by love as by life itself. They had the ‘tragic sense of life’ — and in a manner at once far more profound and convincing than Unamuno (author of   Del Sentimento Trágico de la Vida). There is no way to be happy,” Anna de Noailles writes in Les Innocentes ou la Sagesse des Femmes, “Happiness is that already lapsed moment when…we felt as though we had been drawn from nothingness towards a new destiny….  He who cannot arrest the moment is powerless. Imagination and hope are nothing but the search for memories, a frantic zeal, a servile devotion to the demands of memory” .
This sentiment was not the pique of the bored dilettante, or the affected ‘world-weariness’ of the society beauty : in both cases it was rooted in the correct perception that there is something inescapably flawed about the human condition, overshadowed as it is permanently by the twin divinities of Love (or Sex) and Death. Moreover, the two ‘immortals’ are linked, endlessly leading into one another. To ‘lose oneself’ in love or sexual ecstasy is a kind of death, whereas death, the dissolution of the physical body brings union, if not with God, at least with Nature. Biologically speaking, the reproductive system ‘chosen’ by mammals involves sexual differentiation which is more the exception than the rule in Nature (since bacteria and other unicellular organisms reproduce by division while many plants and invertebrates retain the ability to reproduce asexually). The mammal reproductive system has proved extremely successful, otherwise we would not be here, the principal advantage being that genes get mixed and so there is greatly increased variation in offspring. However, there is always a price to pay : you “don’t get owt for nowt“. One of the prices has been the quasi-permanent state of anxiety that afflicts homo sapiens, an anxiety whose roots lie in fear of extinction and fear of not finding a mate, whether a body or soul mate, or both.

More specifically, the radical specialization of the male and female functions in reproduction — which does not exist in species which are hermaphroditic like certain snails and fish — has resulted in mutual suspicion and hostility between the genders, exacerbated by unrealistic expectations. A contemporary of Anna de Noailles, Lucie Delarue-Mardrus, wrote with special reference to the former’s work, “Woman calls [for] the God. A man appears, miserable substitute” (quoted, Catherine Perry, Persephone Unbound.)  In Anna de Noailles’ case the ‘man’ from whom she seems to have expected the most was the (then) famous writer and politician, Maurice Barrès, rather than her husband. The following remarkable poem, originally published in a slightly bowdlerized version, was allegedly written with Barrès in mind — though the  situation is timeless.

The Aftermath

Above all, after climaxes the most intense
In our close-knit uniting, frenzied, barbarous,
Reclining side by side, gasping for breath, I sense
The abyss that severs us;

In silence we recline, not understanding why,
After such pent-up fury, longed-for, deep, insane,
So suddenly we find ourselves apart and lie
As separate selves again;

You are beside me but your gaze does not reveal
That eagerness I answered with a fire unknown,
You are a helpless beast gorged with its meal,
A corpse sculpted in stone;

You sleep and do  not stir — how can another know
What dream has quieted your restless mind?
But through me yet great gusts of yearning blow
Leaving their mark behind;

I cannot cease from living, O my dearest love!
My warlike frenzy underneath its peaceful air
In desperation searches round me and above
To find a passage there!

And still you lie content! The throbbing ecstasy
Of sadness coursing through my limbs, and that profound
Confusion, nothing of all this in you I see.
My love, my only love! Between yourself and me
There is no common ground.

(translation by Sebastian Hayes)

There are two points to be made here.

On the strictly physical, or technical, level Anna de Noailles, almost alone amongst poets who have written about love, dares to highlight the ‘asymmetry’ of male and female sexual responses. As Margot Anand, author of The Art of Sexual Ecstasy (The Aquarian Press, 1990), writes :

“…a woman’s energy is not depleted by her sexual climax — for her, depletion happens more through menstruation than through ejaculation — she is ready for more lovemaking, while the man typically is not. Male ejaculation often cuts off the communion between partners, as if the man has suddenly turned off the TV while his female partner is still watching the show.  I believe this difference is one of the major reasons for unhappiness in intimacy between men and women.” (op. cit. p. 350).

In the quoted poem, the speaker even treats her lover with disdain,

“[vous êtes] Comme un faible animal gorgé de son repas,
Comme un mort sculpté sur sa pierre”

which I have translated :

“You are a helpless beast gorged with its meal,
A corpse sculpted in stone;”

As a put down one cannot go much further than this : one almost feels sorry for the poor male (though it is difficult to have much sympathy for the self-important Barrès).
However, there is more to it than this : Anna de Noailles is not just talking about the mechanics of male/female intercourse. At a deeper level there is the question of the inescapable loneliness of the human condition which inevitably reinstates itself whether the two partners ‘come together’ satisfactorily or not.

“Je ressens ce qui nous sépare!…
Chacun de nous a pu, soudain et simplement,
Hélas! redevenir soi-même.”

which I render

“…suddenly we find ourselves apart and lie
As separate selves again”

The point is that after every experience of  unity with ‘the other’, there is the ‘come down’, the return to ‘oneself’ and ‘ordinary existence ‘. Life, everyday life, is separation : separation  from other people,  from one’s environment, from the source of life.

The problem is not specific to sex since it applies to all experiences where there is, or can be,  participation mystique : shared religious worship, tribal ‘gatherings of the clans’, collective dancing, troops parading and preparing for battle, the modern-day frenzy of pop concerts and demos. The individual experiences a  sense of going far beyond the limits of his or her individual existence — which makes the return to humdrum reality all the more intolerable.

Acknowledgment: This translation of  “C’est après….”  by Anna de Noailles (the poem is untitled in French) first appeared in the magazine “Tears in the Fence“. 

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Alan Seeger and Anna de Noailles

April 17, 2010 at 6:00 pm (Poetry)

Roger Hunt Carroll hazards the guess that “Alan Seeger was the first American poet to name Anna de Noailles in connection with his verse and I am the second.”  I am indebted to him for sending me the following poem.

Written on the fly-leaf of a volume of poems by Anna de Noailles

Be my companion under cool arcades
That frame some drowsy street and dazzling square
Beyond whose flowers and palm-tree promenades
White belfries burn in the blue tropic air.
Lie near me in dim forests where the croon
Of wood-doves sounds and moss-banked water flows,
Or musing late till the midsummer moon
Breaks through some ruined abbey’s empty rose.
Sweetest of those to-day whose pious hands
Tend the sequestered altar of Romance,
Where fewer offerings burn, and fewer kneel,
Pour there your passionate beauty on my heart,
And, gladdening such solitudes, impart
How sweet the fellowship of those who feel!

Alan Seeger

“Alan Seeger joined the French Foreign Legion and died (aged 28) in battle before the USA actually entered the war.
The only volume of his poems came out after his death, in 1917 or so.  It seems that while he was living in Paris before joining the Legion, he moved in Latin Quarter circles and also had some links with high society. Whether Alan Seeger ever met Anna de Noailles [who was an admired society beauty and woman of letters at the time] is not known, at least by me, but he might have done because of  his connections in Paris.  His family was well to do and he had been at Harvard as classmate to some other American poets who became more than curiosities [e.g. T.S. Eliot].  A rather exotic boy who would have been enchanted with the rather exotic Anna de Noailles… everybody was.  His nephew is  Pete Seeger of American folk music fame.”    (Roger Hunt Carroll)

Many thanks to my American correspondent for this !           Sebastian Hayes


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Different Kinds of Paradise

February 27, 2010 at 7:19 pm (Literary Criticism, Poetry)

Different Kinds of Paradise

Paradise is you, beautiful white cloud-laden sky,
Or you, empty expanse, so lively and demure,
Where green-leaved spreading branches cross and multiply
Like lettering, upright, sloping, flat, ornate or pure,

Spelling out some new masterpiece the world awaits,
A book in space, sweet-scented, melancholy, rare,
A mystical Koran whose wisdom celebrates
The eternal azure and the clear sidereal air.

And paradise is you, far ranging cumulus,
Robe of an absent deity, to whom a flood
Of worn out hopes and fears each day ascend from us,
Vapours of dead desires perfumed by our heart-blood.

You also, garden paths, sombre or debonair,
Given lustre by the sun, or by the morning breeze,
Where multi-coloured flowers let down their twisted hair,
And idly preen themselves in carefree sensual ease.

 

You also are a paradise, earth that will cover me,
A mute unthinking paradise of dust and clay,
When death at length destroys the languid mystery
That binds me, oh so gently, to the beauty of today…

Anna de Noailles

 

This poem — the French  version of which is given at the end of this post — is rather more subtle than may at first appear and has a very satisfying emotional and psychological progression which is typical of Anna de Noailles and marks her impeccable (and very feminine) sense of design .

Who has not spent blissful moments stretched out on the grass staring up at the clouds?  Summer clouds speak to us of a wholly different kind of existence, a carefree, non-human existence which yet manages not to be abstract and frigid. This ‘idea’ is what Anna de Noailles introduces in the first verse,  though she adds the rather original, and certainly very striking, ‘conceit’ that the tracery of the branches, through which she sees the cloud,  is a sort of ‘book’ which has a hidden meaning. This simile is further developed in the second verse.

As a pantheist, Anna de Noailles does not believe in Plato’s eternal Forms, or in any other transcendent truth supposedly revealed in one of the the sacred books of the world (or, we might add in a collection of  ‘scientific laws’ or mathematical formulae). The ‘sacred book’, the Koran, the Principia Mathematica of Newton, is, she suggests, there above us in the tracery of the branches etched against the sky beyond — if only we could read it.

We have thus : Verse 1 the well-known human situation of staring up at the clouds, verse 2 the idea of ‘mystery’ and of something semi-divine which is yet ‘commonplace’ in the sense that is there in front of us.

verse 3 for the first time introduces a jarring note : the simile of a human or animal  sacrifice to an idol . We now have the contrast between human life ‘down here’, which is unsatisfying (‘les vapeurs du desir’) and, by implication because of the image of human or animal sacrifice, cruel and unjust, and the carefree and innocent existence of the wandering cumulus cloud. The cloud is likened, not to a god or goddess — the sort of beings who are ‘human’, i.e. degraded,  enough to require sacrifices — but simply to the dress of an ‘absent god’, absent doubtless because he does not really exist.

verse 4 takes us right down from the cloudy sky to the earth but to the life of flowers and plants (not the human world). This also is ‘a kind of paradise’, especially perhaps because flowers (which are biologically speaking  sexual organs in a quite literal sense) can interact with each other freely and harmoniously while humans cannot — “jouissent en paix du sensuel instinct”.

The opening of verse 4, which comes at first as a shock though as it transpires a necessary one,  takes us further downwards , into what is below the surface, in other  words into the tomb. In general, Anna de Noailles views death with horror, certainly not with arms outstretched as the Romantics pretended to, but from time to time also she welcomes death because it is the return of the individual to the great matrix of Nature into which she will be fully and finally absorbed. No one but Anna de Noailles could have turned up a line, so surprising and yet so simple and so ‘right’ as  ‘le paradis muet et naif qui m’attend’ to serve as an image of death.

And yet, despite all,  she cannot quite reconcile herself to personal extinction (as is required by the Buddhistic and Schopenhauerian attitude to existence) because she nonetheless regrets in the very last line of the poem the ‘beaute du temps’.

We have thus a complex and thoroughly satisfying linear psychological trajectory — one could almost plot it on a graph — from the original image of the poet lying on the ground staring up at the sky full of clouds (verse 1),  to the tracery of the branches (verse 2) which lie between the observer and the sky, up once more to the wandering cloud of verse 3 so far removed from sordid human life, then down to the carefree life of garden plants (verse 4), finally deeper into the Earth’s crust as we follow the metamorphosis of the corpse (verse 5) with a surprise return to life above ground, the life in which the poet is still immersed and in some sense wishes to be immersed, in the very last line of all.

Les Paradis

Le paradis, c’est vous, beaux cieux lourds de nuages,
Cieux vides, mais si vifs, si bons et si charmants,
Où les arbres, avec de longs et verts jambages,
Pointus, larges, légers, agités ou dormants,

Écrivent je ne sais quelle suprême histoire,
Quel livre de l’espace, odorant, triste et vain,
Quel mystique Koran, qui relate la gloire
De l’azur éternel et de l’éther divin.

Le paradis, c’est vous, voyageuse nuée,
Robe aux plis balancés d’un dieu toujours absent,
Vers qui montent sans fin, ardeur exténuée,
Les vapeurs du désir et le parfum du sang.

C’est vous le paradis, jardins gais ou maussades,
Lustrés par le soleil ou le vent du matin,
Où les fleurs de couleur déroulent leurs torsades,
Et jouissent en paix du sensuel instinct ;

Et c’est vous, sol poudreux, argileux, tiède terre,
Le paradis naïf et muet qui m’attend,
Lorsque la mort viendra rompre le mol mystère
Qui me lie, ô douceur ! à la beauté du temps…

Anna de Noailles

 

 

 

 

Sebastian Hayes

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Liebestod : Love and Death in the poetry of Anna de Noailles

January 30, 2010 at 8:21 pm (Literary Criticism, Philosophy, Poetry)

Regrets

Leave me among the graves, I wish to linger here,
The dead are in the ground, the day is bright and clear,
I smell sweet odours, water, leafy trees and hay,
The dead are in their death for ever and a day…
My dancing body will be hard to recognize
Quite soon, my temples cold, dark gaps instead of eyes;
(…)

[Allez, je veux rester seule avec les tombeaux :
Les morts sont sous la terre et le matin est beau,
L’air a l’odeur de l’eau, de l’herbe, du feuillage,
Les morts sont dans la mort pour le reste de l’âge…
Un jour, mon corps dansant sera semblable à eux,
J’aurai l’air de leur front, le vide de leurs yeux…]

Anna de Noailles returns European poetry to the twin themes that obsessed the poets of the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance, love and death. We may perhaps trace this duality back to the enduring  cultural impact of the Black Death in the mid fourteenth century which wiped out between a quarter  and a third of the entire population of Europe in two or three years — an incredible figure that no other disease has even remotely emulated as far as we know.  As Huizinga notes, the gruesome paintings of dancing skeletons led by the figure of Death with his scythe fade imperceptibly into enthusiastic celebrations  of the here-and-now.

Our yesteryears have vanished quite,
And years to come are yet to be,
Fair maid, take thy delight, delight,
Before the shadow falls on thee.

But has not everyone always been afraid of death?  Perhaps at some level, yes, but there is considerable variety in the human response to the challenge from one society to another. Medieval man, during the ‘High’ Middle Ages at any rate, was concerned quite as much, or more, with the afterlife than with this life — and with good reason since the afterlife lasted for ever while this life  lasted little more than thirty of forty years on average. After the disastrous fourteenth century which saw both the Black Death and the start of the Hundred Years War, this perception changed markedly and the fundamental human preoccupation was not with the soul’s ultimate destiny life but rather with the ephemeral nature of this one. Though there were some, like the flagellants, who concluded that God was punishing man for his sins, others seemed to have decided that God had given up on this world altogether and that the best option was to eat, drink and be merry and not bother about the Last Judgement. An abyss separates Dante, who died some twenty years before the Black Death struck, and Boccacio who lived through it. The stories recounted by the elegant Florentines to pass the time in their country retreat while the plague raged are scarcely very edifying, nor do they show any concern for the next world. In the first chapter where Boccacio recounts in detail people’s behaviour in Florence, he writes that “Few indeed were they to whom were accorded the lamentations and bitter tears of sorrowing relations; nay, for the most part their place was taken by the laugh, the jest, the festal gathering” and he also remarks on the complete lack of modesty of women stricken with the plague, or who believed themselves to be.

In Anna de Noailles we come across a truly late medieval fascination with, and horror of,  physical decay and death which we would look for in vain  amongst her nineteenth century poetic predecessors. Indeed, if she had believed in reincarnation, I am sure she would have situated herself in the late Middle Ages. In the nineteenth century death seems to have lost much of its horror and to die young was even fashionable during the Romantic period  —  so many young people committed suicide after reading The Sorrows of Werther and suchlike books,  that the authorities even got a little alarmed, much as today’s authorities are concerned about drug addiction amongst the young.  Shelley opened one of his poems with the astonishing line,

“How wonderful is death, death and his brother sleep…”

I felt I had to check and see if Shelley (who drowned before he was thirty ) really did write this, but it is so. The line first comes up in The Daemon of the World and the first verse ends

“both [death and sleep are] so passing strange and wonderful!”

But for Anna de Noailles  there is rarely anything attractive about death —   except that it has the effect of making one savour to the full the passing ecstasies of the present life. Following Nietzsche, whose philosophy she admired, Anna de Noailles finds it necessary to emphasize the absolute finality of physical death. For

“Il n’est rien qui survive à la chaleur des veines !”

(“There is nothing that survives the [loss of] heat within our veins”)

‘Happiness’, envisaged entirely in physical terms, thus becomes a challenge, almost a spiritual discipline : in Exaltation she urges herself to

Accoutumer ses yeux, son vouloir et ses mains
À tenter le bonheur que le risque accompagne ;

(“To accustom one’s eyes, will and hands to strive for happiness which is always accompanied by risk.”)

Anna de Noailles , in her uncompromising atheistic pantheism, thus stands poised precariously between the interesting but ultimately unconvincing attempts of the Symbolists to create a sort of aesthetic hinterland between this  life and extinction, and the even more unconvincing  attempts of the Surrealists to muddy the entire issue by retreating into   ‘the unconscious’.

It may be worth stating that the recurrent Western obsession with the duality Love/Death, which perhaps reaches its paroxysm in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde,  is firmly based on biological fact. Love and death  constitute the twin poles of our biological reality. Sexual differentiation is far from being universal in nature : it is  only one reproductive system amongst many, and if, as some claim, it  is the root cause  of human ‘progress’, it is also the cause of humanity’s quasi-permanent state of  chronic insecurity and anxiety, especially amongst males  (doubtless because they feel they do not have the capacity to produce new life from inside their bodies).  Sexual differentiation  gives rise to the sense of being an individual, indeed can be said to have  created individuality.  As von Bertalanffy, a biologist,  writes in Problems of Life (pp. 49-50)

It is obvious that a fish, a dog, or a human being is an individual.  (…) But in unicellular organisms the notion of the individual becomes muddied. Through many generations they multiply merely by division. [But] individual means something ‘indivisible’…  Can we insist on calling a hydra or a turbellarian worm an individual, when these animals can be cut into as many pieces as we like, each capable of growing into a complete organism?
With individualization death enters the world of the living. …Higher animals, that are incapable of reproduction by fission as opposed to the primitive ‘dividua’ in the lower phyla, are incapable of unlimited existence; by natural wear and tear they decline into old age and death. Not inappropriately the individual could be defined in terms of death.”

Were hydra, or other unicellular creatures that reproduce by fission, to develop into intelligent beings — which is not completely inconceivable and is an eventuality I consider in my SF novel The Web of Aoullnnia — they would find it very difficult to understand what we  mean by death. To us death comes from the inside, it is a consequence of being alive,  whereas for hydra, for whom the notion of  individuality would be meaningless, they — or rather ‘it’ — would have a sense of being immortal. True, hydra or other unicellular creatures, could be wiped out as a species by a natural disaster or could become extinct through lack of nutrients, but this would, for intelligent hydra, be no more than a distant hypothetical possibility like the prospect of our inevitable demise when the sun runs out of fuel, a notion which has never troubled the sleep of anyone (except seemingly the young Bertrand Russell). For human beings, death is not a scientific hypothesis, it is  always with us whether we accept it or not, and in epochs when communal bonds weaken  and religious faith fails, this sense of mortality tends to become unbearable.

Since Anna de Noailles’ time death has, of course, made  a strong come-back in literature but usually  in the context of warfare, which is slightly different — since just conceivably warfare could be dispensed with, but death not (though some scientific crackpots claim the contrary).  In the early Sixties, death, or rather the prospect of death, became temporarily ‘in’  once more, notably amongst women poets  : Anne Seton and Sylvia Plath both wrote endlessly about death and both committed suicide, as did the female icon of the era,  Marilyn Monroe. But such poetry, apart from being unmusical and formless, is not in the same class as that of Anna de Noailles, being typically an exercise in self-indulgence rather than a genuine confrontation with biological reality.  Anna de Noailles turned fear of death into lust for life, whereas so many modern products of psychoanalysis manage to do the precise opposite : they turnfear of life into acquiescence in death. Today, in the age of triviality,  society has ‘resolved’  the entire issue by reducing love to sex and sex to a casual pastime which it is necessary to indulge in, whether you like it or not, in order to be socially acceptable,  and, as for death, it is either kept well out of sight and mind, or, alternatively, hitched onto the media juggernaut where it functions as a somewhat unusual form of reality TV.

Sebastian Hayes




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