Click here for audio of L’Empreinte by Anna de Noailles, read by Julia Slade

This poem, beautifully read by Julia Slade, was presented at the very first meeting of the series I organized at the Poetry Cafe on  27 January 2010 — indeed, the title of the series, The Trace They Wished To Leave, refers to the first line of my translation of this poem. Below you can find the original French and my English translation and interested readers are referred to the linked website  where you will find other poems of Anna de Noailles translated and commentaries on the œuvre of this great forgotten poet of the Belle Époque era.


Je m’appuierai si bien et si fort à la vie,
D’une si rude étreinte et d’un tel serrement,
Qu’avant que la douceur du jour me soit ravie
Elle s’échauffera de mon enlacement.

La mer, abondamment sur le monde étalée,
Gardera, dans la route errante de son eau,
Le goût de ma douleur qui est âcre et salée
Et sur les jours mouvants roule comme un bateau.

Je laisserai de moi dans le pli des collines
La chaleur de mes yeux qui les ont vu fleurir,
Et la cigale assise aux branches de l’épine
Fera vibrer le cri strident de mon désir.

Dans les champs printaniers la verdure nouvelle
Et le gazon touffu sur le bord des fossés
Sentiront palpiter et fuir comme des ailes
Les ombres de mes mains qui les ont tant pressés.

La nature qui fut ma joie et mon domaine
Respirera dans l’air ma persistante ardeur,
Et sur l’abattement de la tristesse humaine
Je laisserai la forme unique de mon cœur…

                              from Le Cœur Innombrable (1901) 

The Trace I Wish to Leave

I aim to thrust myself against this life so hard,
And clasp it to me fiercely, leaving such a trace,
That when the sweetness of these days I must discard
The world will keep awhile the warmth of my embrace.

The sea, spread out across the globe so lavishly,
On stormy days my fitful memory will sustain,
And in its myriad, random motions ceaselessly
Preserve the acrid, salty, savour of my pain.

What will be left of me in heath and windswept coomb?
My blazing eyes will set the yellow gorse on fire,
And the cicada perched upon a sprig of broom
Will sound the depth and poignancy of my desire.

Each spring, in fertile meadows where the skylark sings,
In lanes and wayside ditches where wild flowers grow,
The tufted  grass will tremble at the touch of unseen wings,
The phantoms of my hands that held them long ago.

My joy and restless passion will not die with me,
Nature will breathe me in, making of me a part
Of all that lives, while sorrowing humanity
Will hold the individual profile of my heart.

Translation Sebastian Hayes

 Anna de Noailles (1876–1933)   was an acclaimed poet, novelist and woman of letters during the Belle Époque but is now almost entirely forgotten. An acclaimed beauty sculpted by Rodin, at least one young man in Paris allegedly committed suicide because of her. As a poet, she is full of fire and unashamed sensuality and saw herself as a female Nietzsche, a thinker she admired and whose philosophy she claimed to espouse. Stylistically, she resisted modern innovations such as ‘free verse’ and stream of consciousness techniques, keeping strictly to traditional verse forms.