Femme nue, femme noire

This poem is a celebration of the beauty of a dark-skinned woman. Senghor, the President of Senegal in West Africa, happily for us, was able to appreciate the beauty that surrounded him and express the vitality of his experience. The poem brings us into the presence of a naked, dark-skinned woman and lose ourselves in the quintessential, sensual essence of beauty. This ranks with Neruda’s love poetry in terms of the language and imagery taking fire on the page and setting the senses pounding.

Femme nue, femme noire

Vétue de ta couleur qui est vie, de ta forme qui est beauté
J’ai grandi à ton ombre; la douceur de tes mains bandait mes yeux
Et voilà qu’au coeur de l’Eté et de Midi,
Je te découvre, Terre promise, du haut d’un haut col calciné
Et ta beauté me foudroie en plein coeur, comme l’éclair d’un aigle

Femme nue, femme obscure
Fruit mûr à la chair ferme, sombres extases du vin noir, bouche qui fais
lyrique ma bouche
Savane aux horizons purs, savane qui frémis aux caresses ferventes du
Vent d’Est
Tamtam sculpté, tamtam tendu qui gronde sous les doigts du vainqueur
Ta voix grave de contralto est le chant spirituel de l’Aimée

Femme noire, femme obscure
Huile que ne ride nul souffle, huile calme aux flancs de l’athlète, aux
flancs des princes du Mali
Gazelle aux attaches célestes, les perles sont étoiles sur la nuit de ta
Délices des jeux de l’Esprit, les reflets de l’or ronge ta peau qui se moire
A l’ombre de ta chevelure, s’éclaire mon angoisse aux soleils prochains
de tes yeux.

Femme nue, femme noire
Je chante ta beauté qui passe, forme que je fixe dans l’Eternel
Avant que le destin jaloux ne te réduise en cendres pour nourrir les
racines de la vie.

Extrait de 
” Oeuvres Poétiques”
Le Seuil

From <http://www.poesie.net/senghor1.htm&gt;

The repetition at the beginning of each stanza, “Femme nue, femme noire” keeps the dominant image of the poem at the centre of our attention throughout, with the following lines expanding on the woman’s appearance and impact on the poet and on all who look at her. In the first stanza, we hear that she represents life and beauty and that the poet has grown up surrounded by strong and beautiful women like this, caring for him tenderly – but now he is grown her beauty strikes him like an eagle with its claws.

In the second stanza we hear about her flesh and her mouth, sensual and inviting, undulating like the savannah caressed by the east wind, tight as a drum played by the hands of the victor; and her voice has all the qualities of one to be loved.

In the third stanza, she is an oil rubbing the thighs of an athlete or a Malian prince, she is a gazelle with long legs; her pearls are like stars on the background of her dark skin (we can think of the woman wearing nothing but a pearl necklace). And looking at her, her skin and her hair, can calm any anxiety of the poet or all of us.

The final four lines of the poem have the poet’s wish to fix this image for eternity – this is how he wishes to think of the woman before the inexorable destiny of life ages and her and turns her into ashes.

Oh to be young and in love…

The Poetry Dude


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