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Nox (opening of Les Châtiments):

Victor Hugo
translation by Peter Hicks of



This is the date you chose in your heart of hearts,
Prince! you must go through with it - this night is icy,
Come on, get up! Scenting miscreants in the shadows,
Liberty, the dog, growls and shows its fangs.
Carlier may have him on a chain, but he barks nevertheless.
Wait no longer! the time has come to seize your prey.
See, December is thick with its blackest fog;
Like a robber baron who leaves his manor.
Be a sharp assassin, take the enemy you see by surprise.
On your feet! The regiments are there in their barracks,
Packs on their backs, maddened with wine and fury,
Just waiting for a bandit they can make into an emperor.
Put your hand on the lamp and creep in from the side,
Take your knife, now's the time: the République,
Confident - it has not seen your dark eyes glitter -,
Sleeps, with your oath, Prince, as its pillow.

Cavalrymen, infantrymen, come out! Come out, you hordes!
Have at the politicians! Soldiers, tie them tight
And throw your generals into the prison cave!
Stick your guns in their backs and drive the Assemblée to Mazas!
Drive out the high court with the flat of your sabre!
Knights of France, change yourselves into Calabrian brigands!
Look, you bourgeois, see, weak flock, vile dregs,
It's like a black demon shaking a bloody dagger,
This Coup d'Etat which comes blazing from the forge!
The Tribuns are fighting for justice; let their throats be cut.
Hauliers, condottieri, bought men, prostitutes,
Strike! kill Baudin! kill Dussoubs! kill!
What are the people doing out of their houses? Make them go!
Soldiers, shoot all this rabble for me!
Fire! Fire! You shall vote later, you sovreign people!
Sabre justice, sabre honour, sabre the law!

Let blood run in rivers on the boulevards!
Barrel bellies full of wine! stretchers full of corpses!
Anyone want a grog? In this rainy weather
You've got to have a drink. Soldiers, shoot this old man for me.
Kill this child for me. What is it with this woman?
She's the mother? Kill. May this entire infamous people
Tremble, and may the paving stones dye their heels red!
This odious Paris is rising and resisting. Let them have it!
May they feel the sober and vengeful contempt,
Which we - Force - have for them - Intelligence!
The foreigner respected Paris: let's innovate!
Lets drag him in the mud tied to our horses manes!
May he die! May he be cut up, may he be crushed, may he be erased!
Black cannons, spit your bullets in his face!

Copyright Peter Hicks, 2003. Used with permission.

Notes on the translator and translation: When I - the editor of The Hugo Pages - did a short translation from this poem, I attempted, unsuccessfully, to mimic the rhyme and rhythm. The translation suffered for the effort. Peter Hicks, editorial webmaster for, has kindly offered his version, which captures the spirit of the poem far more vividly. We at and thank him for his contribution and encourage all visitors with an interest in the history of the First and Second Empires to visit his site, - Geoffrey Barto, editor of The Hugo Pages.

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