poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

About this poet

Victor Hugo was born on February 26, 1802, in Besançon, France. He studied law from 1815 to 1918 and graduated from the law faculty in Paris. During this time, he also began a career in literature, founding the journal Conservateur Littéraire in 1819. He published his first book of poems, Odes et poesies diverses (Pélicier), in 1822. Hugo went on to publish numerous poetry collections and is considered one of the great French Romantic poets. However, he is perhaps best known for his novels, which include Les Misérables (Carleton, 1862) and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (R. Bentley, 1833). Also known for his political involvement, Hugo served in Paris’s Constituent Assembly and Legislative Assembly after the Revolution of 1848. After a coup d-etat in 1851, he fled France to live in Belgium and, later, the Channel Islands. In 1871 he returned to Paris, where he was received as a national hero. He died on May 22, 1885, and was buried in the Panthéon.

Letter

II.vi.

You can see it already: chalks and ochers; 
   Country crossed with a thousand furrow-lines;
Ground-level rooftops hidden by the shrubbery; 
   Sporadic haystacks standing on the grass;
Smoky old rooftops tarnishing the landscape; 
   A river (not Cayster or Ganges, though:
A feeble Norman salt-infested watercourse); 
   On the right, to the north, bizarre terrain
All angular—you'd think a shovel did it. 
   So that's the foreground. An old chapel adds
Its antique spire, and gathers alongside it 
   A few gnarled elms with grumpy silhouettes;
Seemingly tired of all the frisky breezes, 
   They carp at every gust that stirs them up.
At one side of my house a big wheelbarrow 
   Is rusting; and before me lies the vast
Horizon, all its notches filled with ocean blue; 
   Cocks and hens spread their gildings, and converse
Beneath my window; and the rooftop attics, 
   Now and then, toss me songs in dialect.
In my lane dwells a patriarchal rope-maker; 
   The old man makes his wheel run loud, and goes
Retrograde, hemp wreathed tightly round the midriff. 
   I like these waters where the wild gale scuds;
All day the country tempts me to go strolling; 
   The little village urchins, book in hand,
Envy me, at the schoolmaster's (my lodging), 
   As a big schoolboy sneaking a day off.
The air is pure, the sky smiles; there's a constant 	
   Soft noise of children spelling things aloud.
The waters flow; a linnet flies; and I say: "Thank you! 
   Thank you, Almighty God!"—So, then, I live:
Peacefully, hour by hour, with little fuss, I shed 
   My days, and think of you, my lady fair!
I hear the children chattering; and I see, at times, 
   Sailing across the high seas in its pride,
Over the gables of the tranquil village, 
   Some winged ship which is traveling far away,
Flying across the ocean, hounded by all the winds. 
   Lately it slept in port beside the quay.
Nothing has kept it from the jealous sea-surge:
   No tears of relatives, nor fears of wives, 
Nor reefs dimly reflected in the waters,
   Nor importunity of sinister birds.

From Selected Poems of Victor Hugo translated by E. H. and A. M. Blackmore. Reprinted with permission by University of Chicago Press. Copyright © 2000. All rights reserved.

From Selected Poems of Victor Hugo translated by E. H. and A. M. Blackmore. Reprinted with permission by University of Chicago Press. Copyright © 2000. All rights reserved.

Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo was born in 1802 in Besançon, France. He is best known for his novels, which include Les Misérables (Carleton, 1862) and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (R. Bentley, 1833).

by this poet

poem
Boaz, overcome with weariness, by torchlight 
made his pallet on the threshing floor 
where all day he had worked, and now he slept 
among the bushels of threshed wheat.

The old man owned wheatfields and barley, 
and though he was rich, he was still fair-minded. 
No filth soured the sweetness of his well. 
No