Reading: Tenebrae by Emile Verhaeren

The Belgian poet Emile Verhaeren (1855-1916) was one of the most prominent poets of his day. “His Black Trilogy, Les Soirs (1888), Les Débâcles (1889), and Les Flambeaux Noirs (1889–90) explores the spiritual abandonment of a soul lost in the recesses of its own involution.” (Donald Flanell Friedman) I discovered the English translation of a poem entitled ‘tenèbres’:

Tenebrae
A moon, with vacant, chilling eye, stares
At the winter, enthroned vast and white upon the hard ground;
The night is an entire and translucent azure;
The wind, a blade of sudden presence, stabs.

Far away, on the skylines, the long pathways of frost,
Seen, in the distance, to pierce the expanses,
And stars of gold, suspended to the zenith,
Always higher, amid the ether, to rend the blue of the sky.

The villages crouched in the plains of Flanders,
Near the rivers, the heather, and the great forests,
Between two pale infinities, shiver with cold,
Huddled near old hearthsides, where they stir the ashes.

Image Wikimedia
The original says ‘la lune’, not ‘a moon’, but I see the heavenly object staring at the winter wonderland. I can see the sky lightened by the moon, and the cold wind. The image gets more precise when the pathways of frost pierce the expanses (trouer les étendues) while the golden stars in French ‘trouer le ciel’ (pierce the skies), rendered in English as ‘rend the blue of the sky’ (I don’t agree with the introduction of ‘blue’ which assumes the sky was blue in the first place, something that goes against the conventional reading of this dark Belgian symbolism, in which Verhaeren is projecting his inner anguish onto the canvas of the outside world).

The villages are shivering called: We are really looking at this painting by William Degouwe I have taken from Wikimedia. The only movement in the poem (I assume the rivers are frozen) is the stirring of the ashes (remuent la cendre). The ashes are stirred to make place in the hearth for a new fire. Yes, when I read that kind of line, it sounds incredibly positive to me! What do you think?

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