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Les Misérables in miniature
translation by Geoffrey Barto
ll. 61-112 (M. Madeleine, Jesus Christ and other geniuses)
A man of genius appears. He is soft,
He is strong, he is tall; he serves everyone;
Like dawn above the rolling ocean,
He casts a ray of gold on every face in the crowd;
He shines, the light he throws off bursts with brightness;
He brings an idea to a century awaiting it;
He does his work, he seeks those things needed
To grow spirits, lessen misery;
Happy in his works to which the heavens are witness,
That one would think a little more and suffer a little less!
He comes! Surely they'll crown him! They boo!
Scribes, savants, speecifiers, salons, the crowd,
Those unaware of nothing, those skeptical of all,
Those who flatter the king, those who flatter the gutter,
All shout at once and it makes a sinister noise.
Be he a minister, be he a poet,
They whistle at him. Be he a poet, he hears
This chorus: "Absurd! fake! monstrous! disgusting!"
He, however, though they spit in his palm,
Stands, arms crossed, head high, eyes calm,
He contemplates, serene, the beautiful and the ideal;
He dreams; and at moments he waves a torch
That, beneath his feet, in the shadows, casts its glow on hatred,
Revealing all at once the depths of the human soul.
As a minister he wastes his days and nights,
Orator, he piles up drafts, works, speeches;
He works, he fights! Alas! the sad, burning wound
Transforms and persists with his every step.
No shelter. He will be a public enemy, would be
A fabled monster, a dragon or basilisk,
Were he less hunted in every way,
Less in danger of being stoned,
Less hated. - For everyone and those to come
He goes forth sowing glory; he harvests affrontment.
Progress is his goal, the good his compass.
Pilot, he is isolated at the front of the boat.
Every sailor, to keep control in the winds and currents,
Changes his heading from point to point,
Steers a crooked course the better to arrive straightaway;
He does the same; result: blame and shouting; ignorance
Knows all, denounces all; he went North,
He was wrong; he goes South, he is wrong again;
If the weather turns foul, what rage and joy!
However, his head at last bows beneath the weight,
Age comes, lays a slow, deep sickness upon him,
He dies. Envy then, that vigilant demon,
Runs in, recognizes him, closes his eyes,
Takes care to nail his hands to the bier,
Leans in, listens, looks in the somber night
To see that he is dead, that he makes no sound,
That he can no longer know the name by which he was called,
And, wiping his eyes, says: "This was a great man!"
Translation copyright Geoffrey Barto, 2003
Return to lines 49-60: Valjean's sentencing
Continue to lines 113-146: Cosette and the child laborers
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