A Touch of Moonlight

A Touch of Moonlight

A Touch of Moonlight

Regular readers of this blog will recall that one of my favourite poets, and one whose verses inspired me while writing my novel Burning Embers, is the 19th-century poète Leconte De Lisle. As a reader, I enjoy rich imagery, words that create vivid pictures in my mind; and as a writer I endeavour to do the same through my descriptions.

One of my favourite Leconte De Lisle poems is entitled ‘A Touch of Moonlight’ – even the double entendre of the title draws me in. In Burning Embers, I set many of the scenes that feature the protagonists in the moonlight. To me, moonlight is romantic, a soft light that can soften features and feelings. But it also speaks of magic and of a time when being outside, beneath the dark sky, is somehow an illicit pleasure, which creates tension and passion and the feeling that anything can happen.

The following poem echoed in my mind as I wrote Burning Embers, especially during the opening chapter in which Coral and Rafe first meet on the deck of a boat beneath the silvery moonlight. I hope you enjoy it.

A Touch of Moonlight

Under the cloudbank where the rolling wind
Lows like a herd of oxen,
Wrapped in gloom the sea lifts up like a crowd
The crests of its miry floods.

All the Atlantic demons,
With dishevelled hair and straining arms,
Dance in an eerie revel
Around the frantic sailors.

Bottlenose-dolphins, sperm-whales and blue whales,
Champ at the foam, reeling at the noise,
And add their leaps and outbreathings
To the convulsions of the night.

Beset by pale foam,
The ship, thus burdened,
Goes on into the empty wastes,
Cutting through the massed waters with its brow.

It starts back, shakes, heels over,
Rises from the black Ocean,
And from the top of a hillock
Wheels round in the bottom of a funnel.

And no star rides in the heavy sky;
Still a raw, harsh din
Howls and sobs in a steady breath
Across the dark expanse.

On the ill-lit side to which they steer,
Suddenly, as they peer out, there appears
A narrow cleft half opening
Where a pale gleam quivers.

Soon, from the peak of this porch
Which widens as it rises up,
There appears hanging, like a dismal torch,
Half of a blood-stained moon.

The maddened wind torments it,
And strews it sometimes
In red scatterings of burning chaff
Against the gigantic walls;

But, into this retreat, with its sails full,
The ship, freed from hell,
Leaps forward to meet the stars,
Covered with the foaming of the sea.

Effet de lune

Sous la nue où le vent qui roule
Mugit comme un troupeau de boeufs,
Dans l’ombre la mer dresse en foule
Les cimes de ses flots bourbeux.

Tous les démons de l’Atlantique,
Cheveux épars et bras tordus,
Dansent un sabbat fantastique
Autour des marins éperdus.

Souffleurs, cachalots et baleines,
Mâchant l’écume, ivres de bruit, 
Mêlent leurs bonds et leurs haleines
Aux convulsions de la nuit.

Assiégé d’écumes livides,
Le navire, sous ce fardeau,
S’enfonce aux solitudes vides,
Creusant du front les masses d’eau.

Il se cabre, tremble, s’incline,
S’enlève de l’Océan noir,
Et du sommet d’une colline
Tournoie au fond d’un entonnoir.

Et nul astre au ciel lourd ne flotte ;
Toujours un fracas rauque et dur
D’un souffle égal hurle et sanglote
Au travers de l’espace obscur.

Du côté vague où l’on gouverne,
Brusquement, voici qu’au regard
S’entr’ouvre une étroite caverne
Où palpite un reflet blafard.

Bientôt, du faîte de ce porche
Qui se hausse en s’élargissant,
On voit pendre, lugubre torche,
Une moitié de lune en sang.

Le vent furieux la travaille,
Et l’éparpille quelquefois
En rouges flammèches de paille
Contre les géantes parois ;

Mais, dans cet antre, à pleines voiles,
Le navire, hors de l’enfer,
S’élance au-devant des étoiles,
Couvert des baves de la mer.

With thanks to John Harding for the translation.

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