top of page
  • Translation

The Poet's Function by Victor Hugo


God summons him in times awry, When each must rise and each must serve, But shame on him who hopes to hide, Or wanders off into the desert. And shame on him who steals away When cities burn and souls decay, And all is left to vicious fates; Woe unto him with mutinous thoughts Who, helpless, sings his songs distraught, Then scampers out the city’s gates. The poet, in such wayward times, Brings tidings of new brighter days. A denizen of higher spheres, His eyes pierce through the worldly haze. The poet clears a conscious way, In every time, the prophet of his day: He bears the torchlight in his hands, Be there insult, doubt or dismay; Its gentle flames shed tender rays, Lighting the way to future lands.

He sees the people vegetate!

His dreams are always full of Love,

The shadows that will consecrate

The things that will one day become.

And yet, they mock him; ceaseless,

Vile souls in resignation press

On in frivolous, wayward streams,

Then, time and time again,

They’ll mock and scorn Truth's holy fen

With shameful smirks and savage dreams.

Oh people! Listen to the poet!

Listen to the sacred dreamer,

Without him nights are dimly lit,

But he will always see ahead.

Futurity and its dim shadows

He uniquely always hallows,

Seeing the fruit in unripe vines.

A man, sensitive like woman,

God softly whispers through his soul

Just as He does through woods and streams.

It’s he who despite all the thorns,

The envy and the cold derision,

Marches across the ruins

And salvages tradition.

And from the rich tradition's fruit

Springs all that which takes later root,

And all which is by heaven blessed,

All ideas, human or divine,

Which have their roots in distant time,

The leaves with which the future's dressed.

He glows, shining his light upon Fields of eternal verity;

He instills in our spirit’s depths A calm and sacred clarity. He lights up the city and desert,

Both cottages and valleys,

Both endless plains and soaring heights;

And all above becomes unveiled:

Poesie is the star that leads

Both king and shepherd to God's light.


Translation © David B. Gosselin


Original


La Fonction du Poète


Dieu le veut, dans les temps contraires, Chacun travaille et chacun sert. Malheur à qui dit à ses frères : Je retourne dans le désert! Malheur à qui prend ses sandales Quand les haines et les scandales Tourmentent le peuple agité! Honte au penseur qui se mutile Et s’en va, chanteur inutile, Par la porte de la cité!


Le poète en des jours impies Vient préparer des jours meilleurs. ll est l’homme des utopies, Les pieds ici, les yeux ailleurs. C’est lui qui sur toutes les têtes, En tout temps, pareil aux prophètes, Dans sa main, où tout peut tenir, Doit, qu’on l’insulte ou qu’on le loue, Comme une torche qu’il secoue, Faire flamboyer l’avenir!


Il voit, quand les peuples végètent! Ses rêves, toujours pleins d’amour, Sont faits des ombres que lui jettent Les choses qui seront un jour. On le raille. Qu’importe! il pense. Plus d’une âme inscrit en silence Ce que la foule n’entend pas. Il plaint ses contempteurs frivoles ; Et maint faux sage à ses paroles Rit tout haut et songe tout bas!


Peuples! écoutez le poète! Ecoutez le rêveur sacré! Dans votre nuit, sans lui complète, Lui seul a le front éclairé. Des temps futurs perçant les ombres, Lui seul distingue en leurs flancs sombres Le germe qui n’est pas éclos. Homme, il est doux comme une femme. Dieu parle à voix basse à son âme Comme aux forêts et comme aux flots.


C’est lui qui, malgré les épines, L’envie et la dérision, Marche, courbé dans vos ruines, Ramassant la tradition. De la tradition féconde Sort tout ce qui couvre le monde, Tout ce que le ciel peut bénir. Toute idée, humaine ou divine, Qui prend le passé pour racine, A pour feuillage l’avenir.


Il rayonne! il jette sa flamme Sur l’éternelle vérité! Il la fait resplendir pour l’âme D’une merveilleuse clarté. Il inonde de sa lumière Ville et désert, Louvre et chaumière, Et les plaines et les hauteurs ; A tous d’en haut il la dévoile ; Car la poésie est l’étoile Qui mène à Dieu rois et pasteurs!

3 comments

3 Comments


martinmccarthy1956
martinmccarthy1956
Mar 19, 2023

You are giving us a feast of poetic riches this weekend. This is yet another superb translation. And not a word is wasted, not a word is out of place. So, yes - the good poets 'clear a conscious way' for putting 'timeless poetry' out there, despite the obstacles that may suddenly appear to impede their path. Well done, David!

Like

funderburk2
Mar 19, 2023

These poems are a foreign tongue set in today's corrupted discourse.

Like

ddouthat09
ddouthat09
Mar 19, 2023

Another excellent translation, David. It flows as serenely as a river deep and wide.

Like
bottom of page