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Favourite poems: La Jungle

Favourite poems: La Jungle

Favourite poems: La Jungle

In an earlier blog entry (29 September) I introduced you to the poetry of Leconte De Lisle, a nineteenth-century French poet who has inspired my writing with his vivid, evocative imagery.

I have always been a descriptive writer; I enjoy imagining how a setting looks, sounds and smells and then conveying that in description. Leconte De Lisle’s poem ‘The Jungle’ echoed in my mind as I wrote several passages of description for my novel Burning Embers – especially those in which characters are out in nature amid the flora and fauna and the wild animals. There are so many phrases in the poem that affect me: ‘a quiver of comfort’; ‘gloomy glance’; ‘The wilderness is mute’; ‘the bending bamboos’. But what I love most is the contrast between day and night – the warmth, security and beauty that comes forth beneath the sun; then the awakening at night of the dangerous creature. Especially in the Kenyan setting of Burning Embers, night brings danger, casts a hush that can be full of meaning, unravels passions. And thus, in Burning Embers, some of most passionate encounters between the protagonists occur after dark, when the rules have changed, when predators prowl and prey succumb.

As before, I have included the original French poem below the English translation (kindly provided by John Harding; many thanks!) because if you are able to read it in French, you can really get a sense of the majesty of the wording.

The Jungle
Beneath the tall dry grass, where the vermilion cobra
In its golden coil unfurls in the sunlight,
The awesome beast, a jungle-dweller,
Falls asleep, his belly turned up, and stretches his claws.
From his mottled muzzle as it opens, a hot breath
Steams; his rough, pink tongue moves meanwhile.
And over the thick breast, as hot as a furnace,
There comes at intervals a quiver of comfort.
All noise is quelled round his lair.
The panther on the prowl creeps along, curving its back;
The muscular python, with agate scales,
Under the prickly nopals slips its flat head;
The blister-fly vibrates around the striped king.
As for him, bathed in the flame and swaying his tail,
He sleeps on for a whole sun beneath the blue expanse.

But the darkness, like a black sheet, comes down on the horizon,
The freshness of the night has cooled his blood;
The wind passes over the tips of the grasses; he awakes,
Throws a gloomy glance towards the distance, and cocks his ear.
The wilderness is mute.  From the direction of the hidden water-courses
Where the lotus is blooming under the bending bamboos,
He does not hear the slender-legged chital-deer leap,
Nor the light-footed herd of the night gazelles.
With coat bristling, he turns round on himself muttering;
Upon the rough ground he stretches out and pulls himself forward,
Sniffs at the narrow path leading to the open plain,
And, rising up in the grass with a yawn,
Through the night-darkness he mournfully growls.

La Jungle  
Sous l’herbe haute et sèche où le naja vermeil 
Dans sa spirale d’or se déroule au soleil, 
La bête formidable, habitante des jungles, 
S’endort, le ventre en l’air, et dilate ses ongles.
De son mufle marbré qui s’ouvre, un souffle ardent
Fume ; la langue rude et rose va pendant ; 
Et sur l’épais poitrail, chaud comme une fournaise, 
Passe par intervalle un frémissement d’aise. 
Toute rumeur s’éteint autour de son repos.
La panthère aux aguets rampe en arquant le dos ;
Le python musculeux, aux écailles d’agate, 
Sous les nopals aigus glisse sa tête plate ; 
Et dans l’air où son vol en cercle a flamboyé,
La cantharide vibre autour du roi rayé.
Lui, baigné par la flamme et remuant la queue,
Il dort tout un soleil sous l’immensité bleue.


Mais l’ombre en nappe noire à l’horizon descend,
La fraîcheur de la nuit a refroidi son sang ;
Le vent passe au sommet des herbes ; il s’éveille,
Jette un morne regard au loin, et tend l’oreille. 
Le désert est muet. Vers les cours d’eau cachés 
Où fleurit le lotus sous les bambous penchés,
Il n’entend point bondir les daims aux jambes grêles,
Ni le troupeau léger des nocturnes gazelles.
Le frisson de la faim creuse son maigre flanc 
Hérissé, sur soi-même il tourne en grommelant ;
Contre le sol rugueux il s’étire et se traîne,
Flaire l’étroit sentier qui conduit à la plaine,
Et, se levant dans l’herbe avec un bâillement,
Au travers de la nuit miaule tristement.

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