The Hugo Pages Blog

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

 

The Hugo Pages

thehugopages.com or gbarto.com/hugo

Melancholia 147-180:

Les Misérables in miniature
Victor Hugo
translation by Geoffrey Barto
ll. 147-180 (Death of a horse)

The heavy cart holds an enormous stone;
The work horse sweats from bit to croupier,
Pulls and the horseman whips him, and the slippery path
Rises up, and the sad horse's breast fills with blood.
He pulls, drags, groans, pulls again and stops;
The black whip circles overhead;
It's Monday; the man was drinking at the Porcherons yesterday -
A wine full of furor, of shouting, of curses;
Oh! such is the formidable law that delivers
One being to another, the frightened beast to the drunken man!
The overwhelmed animal cannot manage a step;
He senses the shadow weighing on him, doesn't know,
Under the block that crushes him and the whip that stuns,
What the stone wants, what the man wants,
And the horseman is no longer but a storm of blows,
Falling upon this slave laborer who pulls whatever he's hooked up to,
Who suffers and knows nor repose nor Sunday;
If the cord breaks, the man strikes with the handle,
If the whip breaks, he strikes with his foot;
And the horse, trembling, haggard, crippled,
Lowers his sad neck and his muddled head;
Beneath the blows of the steel-tipped boot you hear
The abdomen of the poor mute sounding!
He groans; just a minute ago he was moving;
But he no longer moves, his force is spent,
And the furious blows rain down; his agony
Makes a final effort; his foot misses its mark,
He falls, and there he is, broken beneath the shaft;
And in the shadow, as his burden redoubles,
He looks at Someone with his troubled eye;
And you see it slowly go out, humble, dulled,
This eye, full of the dark stupors of infinity,
Where briefly shines the horrifying soul of all things.
Alas!

Translation copyright Geoffrey Barto, 2003

Return to lines 113-146: Cosette and the child laborers

Continue to lines 181-206: The Lawyer


Main Page
The Hugo Pages' Victor Hugo Bookstore
Terms of Service/Use for reproducing this translation





The Hugo Pages Blog

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

 

The Hugo Pages

thehugopages.com or gbarto.com/hugo

Melancholia 113-146:

Les Misérables in miniature
Victor Hugo
translation by Geoffrey Barto
ll. 113-146 (Cosette and the child laborers)

Where do these children go for whom nobody laughs?
These sweet, pensive beings wasted away by fever?
These eight year-old girls you see walking alone?
They go to work - fifteen hours in the mill;
They go from dawn to dusk, eternally repeating
The same motions in the same prison.
Stooped beneath the teech of a somber machine,
A hideous monster that chews who-knows-what in the shadows,
Innocents on the chain gang, angels in some hell,
They work. All is bronze, all is iron.
Never do they stop and never do they play.
And what paleness! Ash upon their cheeks.
Barely it is dawn, already they are tired.
They understand nothing of their fate, alas!
They seem to say to God: "Little as we are,
Our Father, look what the men do to us!"
O infamous servitude imposed upon the child!
Stunting! work whose stifling breath
Undoes what God has made; that kills, senseless work,
The beauty of their faces, the thought in their heads,
And which would make - here's its most certain fruit! -
A hunchback of Apollo, a cretin of Voltaire!
Evil work that takes tender youth in its grasp,
That produces wealth by creating misery,
That uses a child like one more tool!
Progress of which we ask: "Where are you going? What do you want?"
That breaks youth in bloom! that gives, in sum,
A soul to a machine and yanks it from a man!
That this work, hated by mothers, be cursed!
Cursed as a degenerative vice!
Cursed as damnable, cursed as blasphemy!
O God! be it cursed even in the name of work,
In the name of true work, healthy, fecund, generous,
That makes the people free and makes man happy!

Translation copyright Geoffrey Barto, 2003

Return to lines 61-112: M. Madeleine, Jesus Christ and other geniuses
Continue to lines 147-180: Death of a horse


Main Page
The Hugo Pages' Victor Hugo Bookstore
Terms of Service/Use for reproducing this translation





The Hugo Pages Blog

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

 

The Hugo Pages

thehugopages.com or gbarto.com/hugo

Melancholia 61-112:

Les Misérables in miniature
Victor Hugo
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


Main Page
The Hugo Pages' Victor Hugo Bookstore
Terms of Service/Use for reproducing this translation





The Hugo Pages Blog

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

 

The Hugo Pages

thehugopages.com or gbarto.com/hugo

Melancholia 49-60:

Les Misérables in miniature
Victor Hugo
translation by Geoffrey Barto
ll. 49-60 (Valjean's sentencing)

A man got rich with his thumb on the scale;
The law made him a juryman. In the cold of winter
A poor man took a loaf of bread to feed his family.
Look at the room with the people milling around;
The rich man has come to judge the poor man. Listen up.
This is right since the one has everything and the other has nothing.
This judge - merchant -, upset to have lost an hour to this,
Casts a distracted glance at the weeping man,
Sends him to the chain gang, and heads off for his country house.
Everyone goes off, saying: "This is good." both the kind and the mean.
And nothing remains there save a pale, pensive Christ
In the back of the room, raising his arms to heaven.

Translation copyright Geoffrey Barto, 2003

Return to lines 1-48: Fantine
Continue to lines 61-112: M. Madeleine, Jesus Christ and other geniuses


Main Page
The Hugo Pages' Victor Hugo Bookstore
Terms of Service/Use for reproducing this translation





The Hugo Pages Blog

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

 

The Hugo Pages

thehugopages.com or gbarto.com/hugo

Melancholia 1-48:

Les Misérables in miniature
Victor Hugo
translation by Geoffrey Barto
ll. 1-48 (Fantine)

Listen. A woman with an emaciated frame,
Skinny, sallow, carrying a wide-eyed child,
Is there, lamenting in the middle of the road.
The crowd, from the sound of it, is closing in on her.
She accuses someone, another woman, or perhaps
Her husband. Her children are hungry. She has nothing;
No money; no bread; hardly a bed of straw.
The man is at the cabaret while she works.
She weeps and takes off. When this spectrer has passed,
O thoughtful ones, among the assembled group,
Which has just seen the bottom of a broken heart,
What do you hear? A long burst of laughter.

This soft-faced woman believed perhaps one time
She had the right to happiness, to joy, to love.
But she is alone, without family, the poor thing!
Alone! - no matter! she has courage, a needle,
She works and can earn in her lowly state,
By working day and night,
A little bread, a place to sleep, a linen skirt.
At night she looks at some star, dreaming,
And sings at roof's edge during summer.
But winter comes. It so cold, really,
In this poorly sealed room at the top of the stairs;
The days are short; a lamp must be lit;
Oil costs, wood costs, bread costs.
O youth! spring! dawn! winter's prey!
Hunger soon slips its claws beneath the door,
Takes down and old coat, grabs a watch, carries off
The furniture, takes at last some humble golden ring;
All is sold! The child wokrs and struggles yet;
She's a good girl; but she suffers, in her waking hours,
Misery, demon, that whispers in her ear.
The work lacks, alas! 'Tis often the case.
What's to become of her? One somber day she sells
The poor Croix d'honneur of her old father, and weeps;
She coughs, she's cold, surely she is dying!
At seventeen! great God! but what can you do?... This
Is why one morning the sweet girl went
Straight into the abyss, and why, now, what shows
On her face is no longer modesty, it is shame.
Alas! now mourning and eternal tears!
It's finished. Children, cruel and innocents,
Follow her down the street, crying with delight.
Wretched girl! She wears a thin silk dress,
She sings, she laughs... ah! Poor soul held back!
And the people, severe, with their mighty voice,
Breath to bend a man and to break a woman,
Tell her as she nears: "It's you? Scram, wretch!"

Translation copyright Geoffrey Barto, 2003

Return to Introduction
Continue to Lines 49-60: Valjean's sentencing


Main Page
The Hugo Pages' Victor Hugo Bookstore
Terms of Service/Use for reproducing this translation





The Hugo Pages Blog

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

 

The Hugo Pages

thehugopages.com or gbarto.com/hugo

Melancholia Introduction:

Les Misérables In Miniature: "Melancholia"

Introduction

In the Pléiade edition of Hugo's Les Contemplations (Victor Hugo - Oeuvres poétiques, Tome II - Bibliothèque de la Pléiade), Pierre Albouy's notes flag this passage from the Journal de l'exil of his daughter, Adèle, which was written after he read the family the poem on December 25, 1855 (I have done some reformatting and incorporated notes into the body as this is for informational rather than academic purposes; the translation is mine; its disjointedness is present in the text):
the piece that I am going to read you, he said, came to me in the chamber of peers in 1845, and even as I had begun it, on this sheet, and my father shows us the venerable paper which had been placed at the Chamber of peers and my father read us the piece of verse called -

[summary of the poem]

After having read us this piece, my father told us that it was it which contained the germ of the unpublished novel Misérables, that the poor little children paled by the work of the hard machine of which they speak [sic] in this piece, had given him the idea to propose a law for improvement to the chamber of peers to address the fate of these poor innocents. But 48 had come had dispersed the chamber of Peers to the winds of the February Revolution and the Constituante of which my father was a member had forgotten the children to look after its parents.
(found on p. 1458 of the 1967 Pléiade edition)
He had the idea but was not the one who actually proposed the law which in any case got nowhere. But what this poem is notable for, in any case, is not the particulars of its views on teenage mothers, unusual punishment, animal cruelty, etc., but because it contains, as the quote indicates, the germ of Les Misérables.

The poem is to be presented in two formats, over time. The first of these is a fairly idiomatic line by line reading. It is not high art, but will convey to the reader what the words and phrases have to say. This translation is finished on paper and will be making its way on to the web section by section. A second translation will be much more idiomatic, still pursuing ideas from line to line but attempting to capture what the poem, rather than its constituant elements, has to say. In selected parts of this translation, I use a twelve syllable line broken logically into blocks of 5 and 7 syllables (the pure hemistich of 6 syllables in French gets sing-songy in English) in order to convey the flow and rhythm of the poem. Otherwise, I write in a relatively plainspoken but hopefully flowing English. I have eschewed efforts at a rhyming translation. In French, the grammatical structure alone makes it much easier to form rhymes, and the rhymes in turn make the poem logically flow from line to line. To reproduce the rhyme scheme in English would, I fear, require contorting the language so that using the device would be to defeat its purpose. Those who cannot do without the rhymes are referred to the Introduction to Milton's Paradise Lost, where an artist - as opposed to the mere craftsman that I am - made the argument much more coherently.

As to the divisions in the text, these follow the breaks present in standard editions of the poem; I have taken the liberty of separating them a) to facilitate getting them into the computer and on to the web and b) so that section by section commentary may be more easily added at a later date. The names the sections are given are mine, based either on how they relate to parts of Les Misérables (in my judgment and that of the editors of the different editions I've consulted) or on some other key of my own devising. Writers of term papers should be advised that referring to, for example, the "Fantine" section of the poem, will likely draw either a question mark or accusations of lazy scholarship. Should the designation draw praise for insight, you may consider yourself guilty of plagiarizing this effort unless I got the idea from someone else.

The sections of the "Melancholia" will be listed here as they appear, along with their first lines. Each section will contain a link to this introduction and to any preceding or succeeding sections. TheHugoPages.com main page does not and will not link to all sections, only those that Les Miz afficianadoes are likely to be curious about.

From the literal translation:
lines 1-48: Fantine
(Ecoutez. Une femme au profil décharné)
lines 49-60: Valjean's sentencing
(Un homme s'est fait riche en vendant à faux poids)
lines 61-112: M. Madeleine, Jesus Christ and other geniuses
(Un homme de génie apparaît. Il est doux)
lines 113-146: Cosette and the child laborers
(Où vont ces enfants pour qui personne ne rit?)
lines 147-180: Death of a horse
(Le pesant chariot porte une énorme pierre;)
lines 181-206: The Lawyer
(Cet avocat plaide toutes les cause)
lines 207-254: The Lowly Old Man
(Tu casses les cailloux, vieillard, sur le chemin)

Copyright Geoffrey Barto, 2003


Main Page
The Hugo Pages' Victor Hugo Bookstore
Terms of Service/Use for reproducing this translation





The Hugo Pages Blog

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

 

The Hugo Pages

thehugopages.com or gbarto.com/hugo

Eglogue:

XII. Eglogue
Victor Hugo
Translation and commentary by Geoffrey Barto

We were wandering, she and me, in the hills of Sicily.
She was bold to everyone and was docile for me alone.
Both the skies and our thoughts were shining.
Oh! how the heart finds its nerve in deserted places!
Oh what flowers on the bushes, oh what kisses on the lips!
When one is in the shadows of the woods!

Like two birds who go from roof to roof,
We came at last to the edge of an cliff.
She dared approach this dark pit;
And, though every thorne attacked her white hands,
We tried, leaning and hanging onto the branches,
To see the black, dark bottom.

In that very moment, a hundred year-old titan,
Who had just rolled down in under twenty claps of thunder,
Twisted in that gulf where day dare not enter;
And awful vultures with pitiless beaks,
Attracted by the noise of his frightful fall,
Began to devour him.

So she said to me, "I fear that we'll be seen!
Let us seek a cave in which to hide our joy!
Look at that poor giant! we might have our turn!
For the envious gods that made him disappear,
And who were perhaps jealous of his size
Could be as jealous of our love!"

[variant to last stanza:
And this titan told us: - be careful you're not seen!
Seek a cave in which to hide your joy!
Look at my fate! You will have your turn!
For the envious gods that made me disappear
And who were perhaps jealous of my size
Could be as jealous of your love!"]


I believe the variant is the first version of the last stanza. Here is a case where the variations radically affect the meaning of the poem: When the giant speaks, the couple's love - it is presumably Hugo and a mistress we have here - is a thing for the ages, celebrated by a supernatural agency; the warning further elevates that love, implying it is something to be nurtured and protected despite the dangers it faces. In the version in which she speaks, to the contrary, the importance of the love is a conceit of hers, as are the dangers it faces, which - if the supposition about the protagonists is correct - come not from an imposing outside world but from the maelstrom of Hugo's marriage and his adjustments to it. I can't help but think that it is not an accident that this second version is what has come down to us in the definitive text: Hugo was very careful about which of his myths endured and which didn't.

Copyright Geoffrey Barto, 2003


Main Page
The Hugo Pages' Victor Hugo Bookstore
Terms of Service/Use for reproducing this translation





The Hugo Pages Blog

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

 

The Hugo Pages

thehugopages.com or gbarto.com/hugo

Come! An invisible flute...:

XIII. Viens! - une flûte invisible...
Victor Hugo
Translation by Geoffrey Barto

Come! An invisible flute
Sighs across the orchards. -
The most peaceful song
Is the song of the shepherds.

The wind ripples, beneath the holly,
The dark mirror of the waters. -
The most joyful song
Is the song of the birds.

May no care torment you.
Let's love one another! Always let's love! -
The most charming song
Is the song of lovers.

Copyright Geoffrey Barto, 2003

Update: Part of the first line of the second stanza, "Le vent ride, sous l'yeuse," was omitted from the translation that first appeared here. Thanks to Oliver Barton, who spotted the error, and whose suggested translation has been incorporated into the updated version. GB, 6/21/04


Main Page
The Hugo Pages' Victor Hugo Bookstore
Terms of Service/Use for reproducing this translation





The Hugo Pages Blog

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

 

The Hugo Pages

thehugopages.com or gbarto.com/hugo

My arm squeezed your fragile waist...:

X. Mon bras pressait ta taille frêle...
Victor Hugo
Translation by Geoffrey Barto

My arm squeezed your fragile waist,
Supple as a reed;
Your heart was beating like the wings
Of a baby bird.

Long quiet, we contemplated
The sky as the dawn fell away.
What was happening in our souls?
Love! Love!

Like an angel revealing itself,
You looked at me, in my night,
With your lovely star-gaze,
Which shone on me.

Copyright Geoffrey Barto, 2003


Main Page
The Hugo Pages' Victor Hugo Bookstore
Terms of Service/Use for reproducing this translation






dmoz.org