Erotica author, aka Elspeth Potter, on Writing from the Inside

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Anna de Noailles, "Verdun"


Silence cloaks this world-famous name:
A boundless morrow wraps Verdun.
There French men came, one by one,
Step by step, by days, by hours,
To prove their most proud, most stoic love.

In the stygian test they have fallen asleep.

Their trembling widow, immortal Verdun,
As if to implore their transcendant return
Raises the two arms of her two high towers.
Passerby, do not seek to praise the place
Sheltered by angels sprung from French soil.
Blood pours in such plenty that no human voice
May mingle in vain and febrile complaint
With the endless vapors of this earthly incense.
In the carved and scarred plain here see
The sainted, unsounded power of the land
Whose finest hearts lie at rest beneath.

In this place one cannot give death a name,
So truly did each consent to that gift.
By swallowing all, earth made itself man.

Passerby, measure your gesture and words.
Watch, adore, pray--do not speak what you feel.

--Anna de Noailles, née de Brancovan

1 comment:

  1. When I was 17, about 50 years ago, as part of a French-class assignment I was required to translate Anna de Noailles' poem.
    I was so taken with it that I wrote this, about Australian soldiers on the Kokoda Track in Papua (now part of Papua - New Guinea) in 1942.

    Silence embraces the greatest name in our memory.
    Endless jungle along the Kokoda.
    Here our men came, one by one,
    Day by day, hour by hour, step by step, to stand with a proud and stoic love.
    They fell in that grim ordeal.

    Kokoda, their eternal and weeping widow
    Bows down; her forested ridges a shroud on the corpse.

    Pass by, and silence your empty praises
    Of the hills which were shadowed with the wings of angels
    Flashing from wounds in the bodies of men.

    Blood has flowed here so profusely that no other human voice has the right
    To add its vain and feeble lament to its rising incense.

    See, in these gashed and bloodied hillsides, the infinite power and spirit of “Country”
    For which the bravest hearts have been put beneath the soil.
    Here each knew he had come to die; the greatest sacrifice, offered up by all.

    The Earth has opened and received them; it is made Man.