Victor Marie Hugo - Poems by the Famous Poet - All Poetry

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Victor Marie Hugo

1802-1885  •  Ranked #139 in the top 500 poets

Born in 1802 in Besancon, Victor Hugo was an extremely profilic poet, novelist and dramatist, the author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables. He has been analysed, praised, described, and criticised in many, many biographies; one of the first of these was published by his wife Adèle in 1863. He deeply influenced the Romantic movement and the formulation of its values in France.

Victor's father -Joseph-Léopold-Sigisbert Hugo- was an officer and a general in Napoleon's Army, and a governor of provinces in Italy and Spain. His mother raised Victor after the initial collapse of their marriage; she would rejoin her husband several times at his various posts of duty.

At an early age, Victor began to write tragedies and poetry, and to translate Virgil. At 17, he founded a literary review with his brothers, the Conservatuer Littéraire. His first collection of poems, Odes et Poésies Diverse was published in 1822, the year of his marriage to Adèle Foucher (which triggered the lifelong incarceration in a mental institution of his brother and competitor, Engène). It earned him a royal pension from Louis the eighteenth. His first novel, Han D'Islande appeared anonymously in four pocket-sized volumes (his second appeared three years later). Cromwell, his famous dramatic poem, was published in 1827.

Hugo's political stance wavered from side to side. He wrote royalist odes and cursed Napolean's memory, would then defend his father's role in Napoleon's victory, and attack the injustices of the monarchist regime. When Léopold Hugo died in 1828, Victor started to call himself a baron. In his later life, he would become involved in politics as a supporter of the republican form of government. He was elected in 1841 to the Académie Francaise; in 1845, he was made a pair de France, and sat in the Upper Chamber among the lords. When the coup by Louis-Napoléon the third took place in 1851, he believed his life to be in danger, and fled to various different places; finally to Guernsey in the English channel. His voluntary exile lasted for 20 years, until he returned to France when Napoleon III fell from power and the Republic was reclaimed. In 1876, he was elected a senator of Paris.

His lyrical style has been described as 'rich, intense and full of powerful sounds and rhythms.. although it followed the burgeois popular taste of the poeriod it also had bitter personal tones.' Verlaine describes the progression in a typical Hugo love poem as follows: 'I like you. You yield to me. I love you - You resist me. Clear off.." In 1843, Hugo's daughter Léopoldine drowned along with her husband. A decade passed before Hugo would publish anything new.

Hugo's funeral in 1885 was a national event, attended by two million people.

Victor Hugo (Modern Assessment)

Novelist, poet, and dramatist, the most important of French Romantic writers. In his preface to his historical play CROMWELL (1827) Hugo wrote that romanticism is the liberalism of literature. Hugo developed his own version of the historical novel, combining concrete, historical details with vivid, melodramatic, even feverish imagination. Among his best-known works are The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables.

"How came it that this prudent, economical man was also generous? That this chaste adolescent, this model father, grew to be, in his last years, an ageing faun? That this legitimist changed, first into a Bonapartist, only, later still, to be hailed as the grandfather of the Republic? That this pacifist could sing, better than anybody, of the glories of the flags of Wagram? That this bourgeois in the eyes of other bourgeois came to assume the stature of a rebel? These are the questions that every biographer of Victor Hugo must answer." (from Olympio: The Life of Victor Hugo by André Maurois, 1954)
Victor-Marie Hugo was born in Besançon as the son of Joseph-Léopold-Sigisbert Hugo and Sophie Trébuchet. Hugo's father was an officer in Napoleon's army, an enthusiastic republican and ruthless professional soldier, who loved dangers and adventures. After the marriage of his parents had collapsed, he was raised by his mother. In 1807 Sophie took her family for two years from Paris to Italy, where Léopold served as a governor of a province near Naples. When General Hugo took charge of three Spanish provinces, Sophie again joined her husband. Sophie's lover, General Victor Lahorie, her husband's former Commandin Officer, was shot in 1812 by a firing-squad for plotting against Napoleon.

From 1815 to 1818 Hugo spend in the Pension Cordier in Paris, but most of the classes of the school were held at the Collège Louis-le Grand. He began in early adolescence to write verse tragedies and poetry, and translated Virgil. At the age of sixteen he noted: "Many a great poet is often / Nothing but a literary giraffe: / How great he seems in front, / How small he is behind!" With his brothers he founded in 1819 a review, the Conservateur Littéraire. Inspired by the example of the statesman and author François René Chateaubriand, Hugo published his first collection of poems, ODES ET POÉSIES DIVERSES (1822). It gained him a royal pension from Louis XVIII. As a novelist Hugo made his debut with HAN D'ISLANDE (1823), which appeared first anonymously in four pocket-sized volumes. It was translated two years later in English and a Norwegian translation was published in 1831. The style of Sir Walter Scott labelled several of his works, among them BUG-JARGAL (1826).

In 1822 Hugo married Adèle Foucher (d. 1868), who was the daughter of an officer at the ministry of war. His brother Eugéne, who had mental problems, was secretly in love with her and lost his mind on Hugo's wedding day. Engéne spent the rest of his life in an institution. In the 1820s Hugo come in touch with liberal writers, but his political stand wavered from side to side. He wrote royalist odes, cursed the memory of Napoleon, but then started to defend his father's role in Napoleon's victories, and attack the injustices of the monarchist regime. General Hugo died in 1828; at that time Hugo started to call himself a baron.

To sise at six, to dine at ten,
To sup at six, to sleep at ten,
Makes a man live for ten times ten.
(Inscription over the door of Hugo's study)
Hugo's foreword for his play CROMWELL (1827), a manifesto for a new drama, started a debate between French Classicism and Romanticism. However, Hugo was not a rebel, and not directly involved in the campaign against the bourgeois, but he influenced deeply the Romantic movement and the formulation of its values in France. "The Victor I loved is no more," said Alfred de Vigny, "... now he likes to make saucy remarks and is turning into a liberal, which does not suit him..." Hugo gained a wider fame with his play HERNANI (1830), in which two lovers poison each other, and with his famous historical work NOTRE-DAME DE PARIS, which became an instant success. Since its appearance in 1831 the story has became part of the popular culture. The novel, set in 15th century Paris, tells a moving story of a gypsy girl Esmeralda and the deformed, deaf bell-ringer, Quasimodo, who loves her. Esmeralda aroses passion in Claude Frollo, an evil priest, who discovers that she favors Captain Phoebus. Frollo stabs the captain and Esmeralda is accused of the crime. Quasimodo attempts to shelter Esmeralda in the cathedral. Frollo finds her and when Frollo is rejected by Esmeralda, he leaves her to the executioners. In his despair Quasimodo catches the priest, throws him from the cathedral tower, and disappears. Later two skeletons are found in Esmeralda's tomb - that of a hunchback embracing that of a woman.

Où sont-ils, les marins sombrés dans le nuits noires?
O flots, quo vous savez de lugubres histoires!
Flots profonds redoutés des mères à genoux!
Vous vous les racontez en montant les marées,
Et c'est ce qui vous fait ces voix désespérées
Que vous avez le soir quand vous venez vers nous!
(from 'Oceano nox')
In the 1830s Hugo published several volumes of lyric poetry, which were inspired by Juliette Drouet (Julienne-Joséphine Gauvain), an actress with whom Hugo had a liaison until her death in 1882. Adéle had an affair with Hugo's friend Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve. "Let us not bury our friendship," Hugo wrote to him, but later described him as a man, who 'lifts his loathsome skirt and says, "Admire me!"' Hugo himself was seen by his fans a Gargantuan, larger-than-life character, and rumors spread that he could eat half an ox at a single sitting, fast for three days, and work non-stop for a week.

Hugo's lyrical style was rich, intense and full of powerful sounds and rhythms, and although it followed the bourgeois popular taste of the period it also had bitter personal tones. Hugo's 'Mme Biard poems' - he had an affair with Léonie d'Aunet (Mme Biard's maiden name) in the 1840s - are intensely sexual. According to Verlaine a typical Hugo love poem was "I like you. You yield to me. I love you. - You resist me. Clear off..."

In his later life Hugo became involved in politics as a supporter of the republican form of government. After three unsuccessful attempts, Hugo was elected in 1841 to the Académie Francaise. This triumph was shadowed by the death of Hugo's daughter Léopoldine. She had married Charles Vacquerie in February 1843, and in September she drowned with her husband. In a poem, 'Tomorrow, At Daybreak', written on the fourth anniversary of her death, Hugo depicted his walk to the place where she was buried: "I shall not look on the gold of evening falling / Nor on the sails descending distant towards Harfleur, / And when I come, shall lay upon your grave / A bouquet of green holly and of flowering briar." It took a decade before Hugo published again books. After he was made a pair de France in 1845, he sat in the Upper Chamber among the lords. He also began to work with a new novel, first titled Jean Tréjean, then Les Misères. Following the 1848 revolution, with the formation of the Second Republic, Hugo was elected to the Constitutional Assembly and to the Legislative Assembly. When workers started to riot, he led soldiers who stormed barricades in brutal assaults.

When the coup d'état by Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III) took place in 1851, Hugo believed his life to be in danger. "Louis-Napoléon is a traitor," he had declared. "He had violated the Constitution!" Hugo fled to Brussels and then to Jersey. When he was expelled from the island, he moved with his family to Guernsey in the English Channel. In a poem, 'Memory of the Night of the Fourth,' focusing on the overthrown of the Second Republic and the death of a young child, killed by bullets, Hugo wrote about the new emperor: "Ah mother, you don't understand politics. / Monsieur Napoleon, that's his real name, / Is poor and a prince; loves palaces; / Likes to have horses, valets, money / For his gaming, his table, his bedroom, / His hunts, and he maintains / Family, church and society, / He wants Saint-Clod, rose-carpeted in summer, So prefects and mayors can respect him. That's why it has to be this way: old grandmothers / With their poor gray fingers shaking with age / Must sew in winding-sheets children of seven." Hugo's partly voluntary exile lasted 20 years. During this time he wrote at Hauteville House some his best works, including LES CHÂTIMENTS (1853) and Les Misérables (1862), an epic story about social injustice. Les Châtiments became one of the most popular forbidden poetry books.

Les Misérables is set in the Parisian underworld. The protagonist, Jean Valjean, is sentenced to prison for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. After his release, Valjean plans to rob monseigneur Myriel, a saintlike bishop, but cancels his plan. However, he forfeits his parole by committing a minor crime, and for this crime Valjean is haunted by the police inspector Javert. Valjean eventually reforms and becomes under the name of M. Madeleine a successful businessman, benefactor and mayor of a northern town. To save an innocent man, Valjean gives himself up and is imprisoned in Toulon. He escapes and adopts Cosette, an illegitimate child of a poor woman, Fantine. Cosette grows up and falls in love with Marius, who is wounded during a revolutionary fight. Valjean rescues Marius by means of a flight through the sewers of Paris. Cosette and Marius marries and Valjean reveals his past. - The story has been filmed several times and made into a musical by the composer Claude-Michel Schönberg and the librettist Alain Boublil, opening in 1980 in Paris. The English version was realised in 1985 and the Broadway version followed two years later.
Like other Romantic writers, Hugo was interested in Spiritism, and he experimented with table-tapping. After a number of fruitless efforts, his table gave him the final title of Les Misérables. Among Hugo's most ambitious works was an epic poem, La Fin de Satan, a study of Satan's fall and the history of the universe. Satan is presented more complex character than merely the embodiment of the Evil, but when Milton saw in Paradise Lost in Satan's revolt tragic, cosmic grandeur, Hugo brings forth the horror elements. The poem was never completed.

Although Napoleon III granted in 1859 an amnesty to all political exiles, Hugo did not take the bite. Les Misérables appeared with an international advertising campaign. The book divided critics but masses were enthusiastic. Pope Pius IX added it with Madame Bovary and all the novels of Stendhal and Balzac to the Index of Proscribed Books. Hugo's fleeting affairs with maids and country girls inspired his LES CHANSONS DES RUES ET DES BOIS (1865). "The creaking of a trestle bed / Is one of the sounds of paradise," he wrote. Hugo's daughter Adèle, whose apathy and unsociability caused him much worries, went after Lieutenant Albert Pinson to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where his regiment was stationed, and followed also him to Barbados. LES TRAVAILLEURS DE LA MER (1866), a story of hypocrisy, love, and suicide, became a bestseller and later two films were made of it.

Adèle Hugo's biography of her husband appeared in 1863; she died in 1868. Political upheavals in France and the proclamation of the Third Republic made Hugo return to France. The unpopular Napoleon III fell from power the Republic was proclaimed. In 1870 Hugo witnessed the siege of Paris. "There is only enough sugar in Paris for ten days," he wrote in his diary on 8 October. "Meat rationing began today." During the period of the Paris Commune of 1871, Hugo lived in Brussels, from where he was expelled for sheltering defeated revolutionaries. Hugo's attitude to the Commune was ambivalent: "An admirable thing, stupidly compromised by five or six deplorable ringleaders." After a short time refuge in Luxemburg, he returned to Paris and was elected as a senator of Paris in 1876. Sexually he was still active and his maid, Blanche Lavin, was the constant target of his passions, but not the only one. After an exhaustive period with her, Hugo suffered a mild stroke in June 1878. The infuriated Juliette Drouet, his faithful companion form the 1830s, wrote to her nephew: "You must try to track down the creature [Blanche] who has destroyed my happiness.." Hugo died in Paris on May 22, 1885. He was given a national funeral, attended by two million people, and buried in the Panthéon.

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Demain, dès l'aube...

Tomorrow, at down...

Tomorrow, at dawn, when the countryside turns white,
I leave. You see, I know you are waiting for me.
I will go through the forest, I will go across the mountains.
I cannot stay away from you any longer.

I will walk with my eyes fixed on my thoughts,
Without seeing anything outside, without hearing any noise,
Alone, unknown, back bent, hands crossed,
Sad, and the day for me will be like the night.

I will not look at the gold of the falling evening,
Nor the sails in the distance descending towards Harfleur,
And when I arrive, I will put on your grave
A bouquet of green holly and heather in bloom.
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Tomorrow, At Dawn

Tomorrow, at dawn, at the hour when the countryside whitens,
I will set out.  You see, I know that you wait for me.
I will go by the forest, I will go by the mountain.
I can no longer remain far from you.

I will walk with my eyes fixed on my thoughts,
Seeing nothing of outdoors, hearing no noise
Alone, unknown, my back curved, my hands crossed,
Sorrowed, and the day for me will be as the night.

I will not look at the gold of evening which falls,
Nor the distant sails going down towards Harfleur,
And when I arrive, I will place on your tomb
A bouquet of green holly and of flowering heather.
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Translated by Somnuslupus

Souvenir De La Nuit Du 4 (Memory Of The Night Of The 4th)

Memory Of The Night Of The 4th

The child had been shot twice in the head.
The house was clean, humble, peaceful, honest;
You could see a blessed twig on a portrait.
An old grandmother was there crying.
We undressed him in silence. His mouth,
Pale, opened; death drowned his fierce eye;
His hanging arms seemed to be asking for support.
He had a boxwood top in his pocket.
You could put your finger in the holes in his wounds.
Have you seen the blackberries bleed in the hedges?
His skull was open like a cracking wood.
The grandmother watched the child undress,
Saying: - how white he is! approach the lamp.
God ! his poor hair is stuck on his temple! -
And when it was over, took him on his lap.
The night was dismal; we heard blows
Gun in the street where others were killed.
"We must bury the child," said ours.
And we took a white sheet from the walnut wardrobe.
The grandmother, however, approached him from the hearth
As if to warm up his already stiff limbs.
Alas! what death touches with his cold hands
No longer warms up at homes here below!
She tilted her head and pulled her stockings,
And in his old hands took the feet of the corpse.
- Isn't that a heartbreaking thing!
She cried; sir, he was not eight years old!
His teachers, he went to class, were happy.
Sir, when I had to write a letter,
It was he who wrote it. Are we going to put ourselves
To kill the children now? Ah! my God !
So we are brigands! I ask you a little,
He was playing this morning, there, in front of the window!
To say that they killed this poor little being!
He was passing in the street, they shot him.
Sir, he was good and gentle like a Jesus.
I am old, it is very simple that I leave;
It would have done nothing to Mr. Bonaparte
To kill me instead of killing my child! -
She stopped, sobs stifling her,
Then she said, and all wept near the grandmother:
- What will become of me now alone?
Explain that to me, you guys, today.
Alas! I had no more of his mother than him.
Why did we kill him? I want someone to explain it to me.
The child did not cry out to the Republic. -

We were silent, standing and grave, hat down,
Trembling at this mourning that we do not console.

You did not understand, mother, politics.
Monsieur Napoléon, it's his authentic name,
Is poor, and even prince; he likes palaces;
It suits him to have horses, valets,
Money for his game, his table, his alcove,
His hunts; at the same time, he saves
Family, church and society;
He wants to have Saint-Cloud, full of roses in summer,
Where will the prefects and mayors worship him;
That’s why old grandmothers,
With their poor gray fingers that shake time,
Sew in the shroud of seven year old children.

Memory of the Night of the 4th

The child had received two bullets to the head.
The home was tidy, humble, peaceable, respectable;
There was a blessed branch above a portrait.
The grandmother was there, weeping.
We undressed him in silence. His mouth,
Pale, opened; death filled his shy eyes;
His arms hung limp, in need of support.
In his pocket he had a wooden top.
You could put a whole finger in the holes left by the bullets.
Have you seen the blackberries bleeding on the bush?
His skull was cracked open like a tree split by lightning
The grandmother watched us undress the boy,
Saying: "How pale he is! Bring the lamp closer.
God! His hair is glued to his temple. "
After this, she then took him on her knees.
The night was dismal; you could still hear the shots
Fired in the streets where still more were being killed.
"We must enshroud him," one of us said.
A white sheet was taken from the linen closet.
But the old lady now approached us, coming from the hearth,
As though she might warm his already stiffened limbs.
Alas! What death's cold hand has touched
Can never again be warmed at the hearths found here below.
She leaned forward and drew off his stockings,
And took the feet of the corpse in her small hands.
"Could things be more horrible?"
She cried, "Good sir, he wasn't yet eight!
"He went to school; his teachers were happy with him.
"When I had a letter to write
"He was the one who wrote it. So they're
"Killing children now? My God!
"So they're all brigands now. I ask you, sir -
"He was playing just outside the window this morning -
"Tell me why they killed this poor little guy of mine!
"He was walking down the street and they shot him.
"Sir, he was as good and sweet as Jesus himself.
"I'm old; I'll soon be gone anyway
"What would it have been to Bonaparte
"If they'd killed me instead of him?"
She stopped, unable to keep from sobbing,
Then said - and at this we all burst into tears -
"What's to become of me, now all alone?
"Tell me that, you who are here today.
"Alas, he was all I had left of his mother.
"Why'd they kill him, someone tell me.
"He didn't shout, 'Long live the Republic!'"
We all held silent, standing grave, hats lowered,
Trembling before inconsolable grief.

You wouldn't understand politics, ma'am.
Mr. Napoleon - that is his true name,
Is poor though a prince; he likes his palaces;
He needs his horses, his valets,
Money for his gaming, his household,
His hunts; but you see, he's saving
Family, the Church, Society;
He needs St. Cloud, so full of roses in the summer,
Where prefects and mayors can come admire him;
And that, madam, is why old grandmothers,
Their poor withered hands trembling with cold,
Must stitch shut the shrouds of seven year olds.
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