I read in this essay the following and I do not understand what they mean to express, even after looking up all the words I don't know in the dictionary. Please point me in the right direction.

la campagne est noire de soleil

The first part of this seems to read "the countryside is black...", but after adding the "de soleil" bit I am not sure what it is supposed to express.

… la masse noire de Chenoua qui prend racine dans les collines autour du village, et s'ébranle d'un rythme sûr et pesant pour aller s'accroupir dans la mer.

I understand the first part as saying "the black mass of Chenoua take root in the hills outside the village" and the next part seem to mean something like "and sets out in a sure and heavy rhythm to the sea", but I'm not sure of its exact meaning.

… une profusion de roses thé épaisses comme de la crème…

This seems to describe roses clustered together since I think épais means bushy. But why the use of "comme de la crème" at the end? What is that supposed to mean? And is the word "thé" to describe the colour of the roses or something else?

  • 2
    As Chop says, the book is difficult to read even for a native... full of complex metaphors... What is your level in French ? Is it a personal reading or for a homework ? If it is personal, you should get an easier book if you are not expert in French :)
    – Random
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 7:15
  • 1
    C'est un livre important pour comprendre Albert Camus, c'est une écriture poétique (et donc difficile à traduire) qui suggère ce qu'un homme sensible et sensuel ressent quand il se trouve en harmonie avec le monde, sous les cieux très particuliers du nord de l'Algérie, son pays natal. C'est un moyen très puissant pour comprendre et l'auteur et les subtilités du français. Rien ne vous interdit de prendre des traductions faites par des professionnels pour 'corriger' ce que vous avez déjà fait (et si vous êtes en désaccord de poser vos remarques ici) ; vos progrès peuvent alors aller très vite !
    – Personne
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 17:12

2 Answers 2


First, be reassured: you picked a quite difficult book.

La campagne est noire de soleil

The countryside is black with sun

The question has been asked elsewhere and the answer. "Noir de soleil" looks like a common French expression: "noir de monde" ("black with people"). It means there are so many people you cannot even see the place you are talking of.

Adapted to this case, it's a figure of speech to say the countryside is not only bathed in, but flooded with sunlight.

… la masse noire de Chenoua qui prend racine dans les collines autour du village, et s'ébranle d'un rythme sûr et pesant pour aller s'accroupir dans la mer…

… the black mass of Chenoua which takes root in the hills around the village and sets off in a sure and heavy rhythm to go squatting in the sea.

Here again, the difficulty of understanding is due to a figure of speech. Though Chenoua is a mount and therefore is not likely to move anytime soon, it is described as such.

What you should read here (if I am not mistaken) is that the roots of Chenoua are in the hills, but its slopes go down to the sea.

… une profusion de roses thé épaisses comme de la crème…

… an abundance of Tea roses, thick as cream, …

roses thé

This is a species of roses. Wikipédia describes them as hybrids. On English Wikipedia, they can only be found as hybrid tea roses.

épaisses comme de la crème

Looking at a picture of one species of tea rose (see below, CC-BY-SA Stan Shebs), I suppose "thick as cream" refers to the texture of the petals, evoking something like velvet.

Catherine Mermet tea rose, from Wikimedia Commons


I have personally never heard noir de soleil as a common expression. While it works for noir de monde it makes no real sense when associated with the word sun in a common sentence.

In the essay you mention, it takes another dimension. Here noire de soleil would make me think about both the sun being very present, hot and eventually the fact that the sun is even somehow burning the countryside (hence the reference to black).

In common language, noir de can be used with monde (people) or objects, animals, etc.

For example:

  • Le train était noir de monde - the train was full of people, very crowded.
  • Son lit était noir de punaises - his bed was covered with bedbugs.

But I would definitely not use it in conjunction with something that is typically not black or close to black, although one would probably understand the meaning of your sentence.

For example:

  • La montagne était noire de neige - the snow being white, the sentence would make no real sense.
  • La place était noire de colombes - a dove being white, the same applies here

Hope this helps.

  • It is true it is not a common expression, but I do not think it is black as in burning. This is Mediterranean countryside. Sunny, yes, but not the scorching desert yet. This looks rather like (as far as I'm concerned) a free adaptation of a common expression into an uncommon use, such as can be found in poetry. The Chenoua is another example: though a mountain is by definition an immovable object, in Camus's text, it sets off to the sea. Style figures can be beautiful and hard to understand, even sometimes look like nonsense until you acknowledge them for what they are.
    – Chop
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 12:56
  • Agreed. Well, that's the way I would understand it, but as you said, this is poetry and it is open to interpretation. My answer was more to focus on the use of the noir de expression in common language. I just gave my understanding of it without knowing the whole story behind this particular sentence in the essay.
    – MrUpsidown
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 13:07
  • You're right, "noir de soleil" is not a common expression at all, but as Chop said, Camus deliberately imitates the common expression "noir de monde" to create a surprising oxymoron: it has both a humoristic and poetic effect, meaning that his country is so sunny that you can't see anything else but the sun...
    – BBBreiz
    Commented Apr 15, 2016 at 12:54

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.