Friday 25 March 2016

The Morning of Life by Victor Hugo

My ninth choice for my Deal Me In Challenge comes from "diamonds," my poetry section.  I have completely avoided my short story section so far, not out of design, but out of fate.  I just haven't chosen a club yet.  In any case, for this choice we move to France and the poetry of Victor Hugo.

Le Voile du Matin
by Victor Hugo

Le voile du matin sur les monts se déploie.
Vois, un rayon naissant blanchit la vieille tour ;
Et déjà dans les cieux s'unit avec amour,
Ainsi que la gloire à la joie,
Le premier chant des bois aux premiers feux du jour.

Oui, souris à l'éclat dont le ciel se décore ! -
Tu verras, si demain le cercueil me dévore,
Un soleil aussi beau luire à ton désespoir,
Et les mêmes oiseaux chanter la même aurore,
Sur mon tombeau muet et noir !

Mais dans l'autre horizon l'âme alors est ravie.
L'avenir sans fin s'ouvre à l'être illimité.
Au matin de l'éternité
On se réveille de la vie,
Comme d'une nuit sombre ou d'un rêve agité.

source Wikipedia

The Morning Of Life (an ode)
by Victor Hugo

The mist of the morning is torn by the peaks,
Old towers gleam white in the ray,
And already the glory so joyously seeks
The lark that's saluting the day.

Then smile away, man, at the heavens so fair,
Though, were you swept hence in the night,
From your dark, lonely tomb the owlets would stare
At the sun rising newly as bright.

But out of earth's trammels your soul would have flown
Where glitters Eternity's stream,
And you shall have waked 'midst pure glories unknown,
As sunshine disperses a dream.

This is a beautiful poem, but this was the only English translation that I was able to find, and the poem really suffers in the translation.  From the French (keeping in mind, my French is adequate, but I'm certainly not fluent),  the reader is assailed wtih images of newness and light and birth and song, but there is also a reference to an old tower.  Yet in the second stanza the poet mentions that though he may be found in a coffin (I suspect that he is the "old tower" from the first stanza), the sun will continue to shine and that same bird will sing on his tomb.  And should the reader be saddened by his death?  The third stanza indicates not, as the poet will have an endless horizon as he awakens in the light of eternity.  The first life now appears as a dark night or restless dream in comparison to this new everlasting life.

Ai-ya!  I was able to pull very little of that explanation from the English translation.  The French says "mon tombeau" (my tomb), not your tomb, and with the English second person pronouns in the third stanza, it is very confusing as to who is speaking.  Anyone with more adequate French skills than I have, is welcome to comment.

For those of you who didn't know that Hugo was also a recreational artist, producing more than 4000 drawings, I'll leave you with one of them:

The Wave of My Destiny (1857)
Victor Hugo
source Wikiart

Deal Me In Challenge #9


  1. translation is a funny business, and ultimately not very satisfactory, i gather, from reading accounts of trying to do it and trying it a bit myself from spanish to english. it almost seems like thinking in one language is an entirely different reality than in another. my respect goes to anyone willing to attempt it, though... i didn't know hugo wrote much poetry, but then i don't know much about him, only having read one or two of his works which i can't remember much of now, anyway... thanks for opening the window a bit...

    1. I was surprised at just how "off" this translation seemed, but again, I'm not an expert, so I'll have to investigate. I just recently learned that he was an artist, so that was surprising.

      You're welcome! I hope that you do get to read some more of his works. He was very passionate about what he did, and that transfers to the page. Les Miserables still has a fond place in my heart. :-)

  2. My biggest bookish regret is not buying Hugo's poetry when I had the chance. Like Jeanette Winterson says, you don't regret the books you buy, just the ones you don't! I'll have to buy them online one day, but looks like I'll have to be very wary indeed of the translator!

    1. Your regret might be one of my regrets too! I can't believe you didn't buy it! Okay, no recriminations. ;-) Keep an eye out and perhaps you'll find another. And yes, I'm really surprised about the terrible translation. But it was really difficult to find anything on the internet about this poem. I really like Hugo's poetry so I don't understand why it's not more popular. I probably need to look on French sites.

  3. Reading in translation is a tricky thing! Poetry in translation is even more so! But I love the contradictory images, that finally leads to the light of eternity, versus the initial movement of everything bright but actually transient!

    1. Wow, what a lovely way to put it! Next time I write a poetry review could you be my ghostwriter? ;-)

      I really love Hugo's poems because even if he's talking about morning, or flowers or death, he leaves the reader with a feeling of hope.

  4. Very cool! I tried just a google translate sort of thing for the French and got the general gist of the poem, and then when I read the translation you posted -- wow! Very different. Still cool in both versions, though. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it!

    1. That's interesting ....... I'd love to be able to speak with the translator and ask them about their choices. The inaccuracy is probably because of the rhyme-scheme. It's so hard to choose accurate words when trying to translate AND rhyme. I think much of the intent of the poem is sacrificed and it becomes something new. Which is not necessarily bad because, as you said, both are beautiful.

  5. Translation is tricky--especially if it's poetry, and especially if it rhymes. Because words that rhyme in one language, do not rhyme in another, and so in keeping the rhyme, the actual meaning is lost. Even if a poem doesn't rhyme, sacrifices in meaning must be made for it to simply make sense, and not just be seemingly random words stringed together.
    Jokes are fascinating to me too: there are many jokes that I find hilarious in Spanish, but when I try to say them in english they make absolutely no sense. My in-laws are Russian and my father-in-law loves telling me Russian jokes in English--to my high sense of amusement and my husband's high sense of annoyance, Lol!

    1. I'm tending to distrust translated poems that rhyme. But sadly we can't learn every language so doing due diligence when picking translators is all we can do. It can take some research though and this poem is relatively unknown so I was at the mercy of one translation.

      Russian in-laws!! Does you husband know Russian? The Greek and Russian translations are the ones I'm usually the pickiest with (probably because I don't know the languages, and French and Spanish I can decode enough to tell whether I like the translation or not).

      Yes, jokes and idioms in other languages often don't work very well, do they? ;-)

  6. what would be a great song that goes with this