Happy B-Day, Victor Hugo

Posted: February 26, 2012 in poetry
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VICTOR HUGO (26 February 1802 – 22 May 1885)

Born in 1802 in Besancon, Victor Hugo was an extremely prolific poet, novelist and dramatist, the author of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Les Misérables”. He has been analyzed, praised, described, and criticized 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 Conservateur Littéraire. His first collection of poems 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 Napoleon’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 Napoleon 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 bourgeois popular taste of the period 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 Bio and Poems: www.poemhunter.com
Images: Google and Wikipedia
Read another Post about Victor Hugo on this blog: Man and Woman, a poem by Victor Hugo

THE GRAVE AND THE ROSE

The Grave said to the Rose,
“What of the dews of dawn,
Love’s flower, what end is theirs?”
“And what of spirits flown,
The souls whereon doth close
The tomb’s mouth unawares?”
The Rose said to the Grave.

The Rose said, “In the shade
From the dawn’s tears is made
A perfume faint and strange,
Amber and honey sweet.”
“And all the spirits fleet
Do suffer a sky-change,
More strangely than the dew,
To God’s own angels new,”
The Grave said to the Rose.

THE EXILE’S CHOICE

Since justice slumbers in the abysm,
Since the crime’s crowned with despotism,
Since all most upright souls are smitten,
Since proudest souls are bowed for shame,
Since on the walls in lines of flame
My country’s dark dishonour’s written;

O grand Republic of our sires,
Pantheon filled with sacred fires,
In the free azure golden dome,
Temple with shades immortal thronged!
Since thus thy glory they have wronged,
With ‘Empire’ staining Freedom’s home;

Since in my country each soul born
Is base; since there are laughed to scorn
The true, the pure, the great, the brave,
The indignant eyes of history,
Honor, law, right, and liberty,
And those, alas! within the grave:

Solitude, exile ! I love them !
Sorrow, be thou my diadem !
Poverty love I, — for ‘t is pride !
My rugged home winds beat upon;
And even that awful Statue wan
Aye seated silent by my side.

I love the woe that proves me strong;
That shadow of fate which all ye throng,
O ye to whom high hearts aye bow, –
Faith, Virtue veiled, stern Dignity,
And thou, proud Exile, Liberty,
And, nobler yet, Devotion, thou!

I love this islet lonely, bold, –
Jersey, wherever England’s old
Free banner doth the storm-blast brave;
Yon darkling ocean’s ebb and flow,
Its vessels, each a wandering plough,
Whose mystic furrow is the wave.

I love thy gull, with snowy wing
In pearls to the wind blithe scattering,
O ocean vast, thy sunny spray;
Who darts beneath hugh billows gaping,
Soon from those monstrous throats escaping
As a soul from sorrow flits away!

I love the rock, — how solemn, stern !
Thence hearkening aye the plaint eterne
On the wild air around me shed,
Ever the sullen night outpours,
Of waves that sob on sombre shores,
Of mothers mourning children dead!

THE GENESIS OF BUTTERFLIES

The dawn is smiling on the dew that covers
The tearful roses; lo, the little lovers
That kiss the buds, and all the flutterings
In jasmine bloom, and privet, of white wings,
That go and come, and fly, and peep and hide,
With muffled music, murmured far and wide!
Ah, Spring time, when we think of all the lays
That dreamy lovers send to dreamy mays,
Of the fond hearts within a billet bound,
Of all the soft silk paper that pens wound,
The messages of love that mortals write
Filled with intoxication of delight,
Written in April, and before the May time
Shredded and flown, play things for the wind’s play-time,
We dream that all white butterflies above,
Who seek through clouds or waters souls to love,
And leave their lady mistress in despair,
To flit to flowers, as kinder and more fair,
Are but torn love-letters, that through the skies
Flutter, and float, and change to Butterflies.

SERENADE

When the voice of thy lute at the eve
Charmeth the ear,
In the hour of enchantment believe
What I murmur near.
That the tune can the Age of Gold
With its magic restore.
Play on, play on, my fair one,
Play on for evermore.

When thy laugh like the song of the dawn
Riseth so gay
That the shadows of Night are withdrawn
And melt away,
I remember my years of care
And misgiving no more.
Laugh on, laugh on, my fair one,
Laugh on for evermore.

When thy sleep like the moonlight above
Lulling the sea,
Doth enwind thee in visions of love,
Perchance, of me!
I can watch so in dream that enthralled me,
Never before!
Sleep on, sleep on, my fair one!
Sleep on for evermore.

MORE STRONG THAN TIME

Since I have set my lips to your full cup, my sweet,
Since I my pallid face between your hands have laid,
Since I have known your soul, and all the bloom of it,
And all the perfume rare, now buried in the shade;

Since it was given to me to hear on happy while,
The words wherein your heart spoke all its mysteries,
Since I have seen you weep, and since I have seen you smile,
Your lips upon my lips, and your eyes upon my eyes;

Since I have known above my forehead glance and gleam,
A ray, a single ray, of your star, veiled always,
Since I have felt the fall, upon my lifetime’s stream,
Of one rose petal plucked from the roses of your days;

I now am bold to say to the swift changing hours,
Pass, pass upon your way, for I grow never old,
Fleet to the dark abysm with all your fading flowers,
One rose that none may pluck, within my heart I hold.

Your flying wings may smite, but they can never spill
The cup fulfilled of love, from which my lips are wet;
My heart has far more fire than you can frost to chill,
My soul more love than you can make my soul forget.

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