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Life in the Fields:

VI. Life in the fields
Victor Hugo
translated by Geoffrey Barto

This is a long poem, too long for one of my humble skills to put into verse. It is, nonetheless, interesting - interesting for the way digression leads to digression in a poem that slowly moves from a homey idyll to the contemplation of a strange, unknowable world. The translation is not perfect, but here it is all the same. Enjoy.

In the country at night, one goes out for a walk,
The poor man in his field, the rich man in his domain;
Me, I go forward; the poet in every place
Feels himself at home, sensing he is everywhere with God.
Willingly I go alone. I meditate or listen.
However, if someone wishes to come along,
I accept. Every person has something to share,
Every man is a book in which God, Himself, writes.
Each time one of these books falls into my hands,
A volume where lives a soul and that is sealed in the tomb,
I read it.

Each night I therefore leave, have a break,
I go out. Along the way I visit friends I have.
We take some air at the end of the garden, as family.
The dew dampens the benches a little beneath the trees;
Little matter! I sit, and I do not know why
All the little children gather around me.
Once I am seated, there they all come.
It's just they know I have their tastes; they remember
That I like them love the air, the flowers, butterflies,
And the animals one sees running in the fields.
They know that I'm a man who loves them,
A being around whom they can play, and even
Shout, make noise, talk out loud;
That I laughed like them and still more in the past,
And that today, though I only watch their frolicking,
I still smile at them, though I am most sad;
They say, sweet friends, that I never know
How to get angry; they have fun with me; I do
Things on paper, drawings with my pen;
That I tell - even as the lamps are lit -
Oh! charming stories that make you fear the night,
And finally, that I'm sweet, not proud or too instructive.
So when they have seen me: "There he is!" All run.
They leave behind their games and surround me
With their lovely, large child-eyes, without fear or rancor,
Which seem forever as blue as the blue of the sky.

The children - when one is small, one is brave -
Climb on my knees; the bigger ones have a serious air;
They bring me blackbird nests they have found,
Albums, pencils that come from Paris;
They consult me, have a hundred things to tell,
They speak, we chat, above all one laughs; - I love laughter,
Not the ironic laugh of sarcastic jeerers,
But the sweet honest laugh of the open mouth and heart,
Which at the same time reveals pearls and souls.

I admire the pencils, the albums, the blackbird nests;
And sometimes they say, when I have finished admiring:
"That's the same opinon as Monsieur the Cure's."
Then, when they have chatted together at their leisure,
They move, suddenly, the bigger ones leaning on my chair,
The smaller ones always grouped at my knees, and then
Silence, and that means, "Talk to us."

I talk to them of everything. My speeches sew in them
Both ideas and facts. As they like me, they like
What I tell them. I point out to them
The sky, God who's hiding there, and the stars one sees.
All, to look at them, listen. I tell how
We must think, dream, seek. God blesses man,
Not for having found, but for having sought.
I say, "Give alms to the poor, humble and stooped,
Sweetly receive lessons or blame,
Give and receive, it's to give life the soul!"
I tell them about life, and that, in our suffering,
Goodness must be at the bottom of our tears,
And that in our happiness, and in our delight,
Goodness must be at the bottom of our laughter.
That to be good is to live well; and that adversity
Can always stalk a soul, save for the good;
And that the mean, in their profound hatred,
Are wrong to accuse God. Great God! No man in the world
Has the right, in choosing his path, and following it,
To say that it's you who made him mean;

For the mean, Lord, are not necessary to you.
I also tell them history; the misery
Of the Jewish people, cursed that one must finally bless;
Greece, shining up to the future;
Rome; ancient Egypt and its shadeless plains,
And all that one sees there, sinister and somber,
Terrifying places! all die; the human noise ends.
All those demons carved in blocks of granit,
Monstrous Olympia of dark epoques,
Sphinxes, Anubises, Ammons, Mercuries,
Sitting in the desert 4000 years.
Around them the wind blows, and the burning sand
Rises, like a sea out of which poke their enormous heads;
The mutilated stone has kept some form
Of statue or of specter, and first recalls
The folds of a sheet draped over the face of a corpse;
One first perceives the forehead, the nose, the mouth,
The eyes, I do not know what fierce and horrible thing,
Which looks and sees, vague and hideous mask.
The night traveller, who passes by them,
Fearful, and thinking to see, in the light of the stars,
Giants, chained and mute beneath their veils.

Drawn from Contemplations, Aurore
Copyright Geoffrey Barto, 2002

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