As a young girl I attended a convent school run by French nuns (interestingly, all had once been Jewish but converted to Catholicism). The nuns were passionate about French literature, and so I was brought up on the likes of Balzac, Flaubert, Proust and Hugo. But it was 19th-century poet Leconte de Lisle who most captured my imagination with his descriptive verse.
The following poem is one of my favourites. It has a stillness, a soul that I find moving. The colours and power of the sunset depicted in the poem were inspirational in my forming the idea for my novel, Burning Embers. And when I travelled to Kenya and saw first-hand the breathtakingly beautiful sunrises and sunsets over the savannah, the story took shape in my mind.
Those who have read my novel will note how often the sun features in the book, which is why it’s a core element of the book’s cover. Day and night are not ordinary; their arrival is heralded by the majestic orb in the sky that brings warmth and beauty to the love story playing out beneath. The burning embers in the fiery passion between Coral and Rafe are reflected in the hues of the African sunrise and sunset.
The Golden Globe
The sun’s golden globe fallen from the limitless heavens
Slowly sinks into the still sea,
And, as a crowning farewell, bathes in a rosy flash
The hoar-frost sparkling on the tops of the island-bluffs.
With a mournful and languishing sigh,
The wind from the heights, along the shadow-filled gullies,
Lightly shakes the dark tamarind-trees
Where the whistling birds have just settled to roost.
Among the coffee-bushes and the ripened sugar-canes,
The outbreathings of the ground, like a censor,
Exhale, mingling in the breath of the evening
The fragrance of the woods with the scent of the sugar-mills.
A star springs from the blue-black of the night,
Most vivid, and throbs in its pearly whiteness;
Then the sea of suns and worlds unfurls
And blazes on the floods dazzled by its glory.
And the soul, observing, and losing its very self
In the resplendent peace of the sublime silence,
With neither regrets nor longings, knowing that all is vain,
In an everlasting dream, is swallowed up and shrouded from sight.
L’orbe d’or du soleil tombé des cieux sans bornes
S’enfonce avec lenteur dans l’immobile mer,
Et pour suprême adieu baigne d’un rose éclair
Le givre qui pétille à la cime des normes.
En un mélancolique et languissant soupir,
Le vent des hauts, le long des ravins emplis d’ombres,
Agite doucement les tamariniers sombres
Où les oiseaux siffleurs viennent de s’assoupir.
Parmi les caféiers et les cannes mûries,
Les effluves du sol, comme d’un encensoir,
S’exhalent en mêlant dans le souffle du soir
A l’arôme des bois l’odeur des sucreries.
Une étoile jaillit du bleu noir de la nuit,
Toute vive, et palpite en sa blancheur de perle ;
Puis la mer des soleils et des mondes déferle
Et flambe sur les flots que sa gloire éblouit.
Et l’âme, qui contemple, et soi-même s’oublie
Dans la splendide paix du silence divin,
Sans regrets no désirs, sachant que tout est vain,
En un rêve éternel s’abîme ensevelie.
With thanks to John Harding for the translation.