Poem – A Song

Sitting at His table one day,
God and the devil a game did play;
Hated humanity was at stake;
Well, the first picked Bonaparte;
The other drew, and for his part,
‘Twas Mastai that he did take.

Impoverished abbey, thin as a sprite!
Petty prince, small and filled with spite,
Truly a thoughtless brat!
Oh what a worthless pot!
‘Twas God that had the losing lot
So the devil won them both at that.

God the Father cried, ‘Take them you!
You will not know what to do
With them’; the devil laughed; ‘Good sir-
That’s where you’re wrong,’ the devil said,
And of the one a pope he made,
And of the other an emperor.

Poem – June Nights

In summer, when day has fled, the plain covered with flowers
Pours out far away an intoxicating scent;
Eyes shut, ears half open to noises,
We only half sleep in a transparent slumber.

The stars are purer, the shade seems pleasanter;
A hazy half-day colours the eternal dome;
And the sweet pale dawn awaiting her hour
Seems to wander all night at the bottom of the sky.

Poem – Letter

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.

Poem – A Sunset

I love the evenings, passionless and fair, I love the evens,
Whether old manor-fronts their ray with golden fulgence leavens,
In numerous leafage bosomed close;
Whether the mist in reefs of fire extend its reaches sheer,
Or a hundred sunbeams splinter in an azure atmosphere
On cloudy archipelagos.

Oh, gaze ye on the firmament! a hundred clouds in motion,
Up-piled in the immense sublime beneath the winds’ commotion,
Their unimagined shapes accord:
Under their waves at intervals flame a pale levin through,
As if some giant of the air amid the vapors drew
A sudden elemental sword.

The sun at bay with splendid thrusts still keeps the sullen fold;
And momently at distance sets, as a cupola of gold,
The thatched roof of a cot a-glance;
Or on the blurred horizon joins his battle with the haze;
Or pools the blooming fields about with inter-isolate blaze,
Great moveless meres of radiance.

Then mark you how there hangs athwart the firmament’s swept track,
Yonder a mighty crocodile with vast irradiant back,
A triple row of pointed teeth?
Under its burnished belly slips a ray of eventide,
The flickerings of a hundred glowing clouds in tenebrous side
With scales of golden mail ensheathe.

Then mounts a palace, then the air vibrates–the vision flees.
Confounded to its base, the fearful cloudy edifice
Ruins immense in mounded wrack;
Afar the fragments strew the sky, and each envermeiled cone
Hangeth, peak downward, overhead, like mountains overthrown
When the earthquake heaves its hugy back.

These vapors, with their leaden, golden, iron, bronzèd glows,
Where the hurricane, the waterspout, thunder, and hell repose,
Muttering hoarse dreams of destined harms,–
‘Tis God who hangs their multitude amid the skiey deep,
As a warrior that suspendeth from the roof-tree of his keep
His dreadful and resounding arms!

All vanishes! The Sun, from topmost heaven precipitated,
Like a globe of iron which is tossed back fiery red
Into the furnace stirred to fume,
Shocking the cloudy surges, plashed from its impetuous ire,
Even to the zenith spattereth in a flecking scud of fire
The vaporous and inflamèd spaume.

O contemplate the heavens! Whenas the vein-drawn day dies pale,
In every season, every place, gaze through their every veil?
With love that has not speech for need!
Beneath their solemn beauty is a mystery infinite:
If winter hue them like a pall, or if the summer night
Fantasy them starre brede.

The Portrait of a Child- Victor Marie Hugo

That brow, that smile, that cheek so fair,

Beseem my child, who weeps and plays:

A heavenly spirit guards her ways,

From whom she stole that mixture rare.

Through all her features shining mild,

The poet sees an angel there,

The father sees a child.

And by their flame so pure and bright,

We see how lately those sweet eyes

Have wandered down from Paradise,

And still are lingering in its light.

All earthly things are but a shade

Through which she looks at things above,

And sees the holy Mother-maid,

Athwart her mother’s glance of love.

She seems celestial songs to hear,

And virgin souls are whispering near.

Till by her radiant smile deceived,

I say, ‘Young angel, lately given,

When was thy martyrdom achieved?

And what name lost thou bear in heaven?’ 

The Quiet Rural Church – Victor Marie Hugo

It was a humble church, with arches low,

The church we entered there,

Where many a weary soul since long ago

Had past with plaint or prayer.

Mournful and still it was at day’s decline,

The day we entered there;

As in a loveless heart, at the lone shrine,

The fires extinguished were.

Scarcely was heard to float some gentlest sound,

Scarcely some low breathed word,

As in a forest fallen asleep, is found

Just one belated bird. 

The Retreat From Moscow – Victor Marie Hugo

It snowed. A defeat was our conquest red!

For once the eagle was hanging its head.

Sad days! the Emperor turned slowly his back

On smoking Moscow, blent orange and black.

The water burst, avalanche-like, to reign

Over the endless blanched sheet of the plain.

Nor chief nor banner in order could keep,

The wolves of warfare were ‘wildered like sheep.

The wings from centre could hardly be known

Through snow o’er horses and carts o’erthrown,

Where froze the wounded. In the bivouacs forlorn

Strange sights and gruesome met the breaking morn:

Mute were the bugles, while the men bestrode

Steeds turned to marble, unheeding the goad

The shells and bullets came down with the snow

As though the heavens hated these poor troops below.

Surprised at trembling, though it was with cold,

Who ne’er had trembled out of fear, the veterans bold

Marched stern; to grizzled moustache hoar-frost clung

‘Neath banners that in leaden masses hung. 
It snowed,—went snowing still. And chill the breeze

Whistled upon the glassy, endless seas,

Where naked feet on, on forever went,

With naught to eat, and not a sheltering tent.

They were not living troops as seen in war,

But merely phantoms of a dream, afar

In darkness wandering, amid the vapour dim,—

A mystery; of shadows a procession grim,

Nearing a blackening sky, unto its rim.

Frightful, since boundless, solitude behold

Where only Nemesis wove, mute and cold,

A net all snowy with its soft meshes dense,

A shroud of magnitued for host immense;

Till every one felt as if left alone

In a wide wilderness where no light shone,

To die, with pity none, and none to see

That from this mournful realm none should get free.

Their foes the frozen North and Czar,—that, worst.

Cannon were broken up in haste accurst

To burn the frames and make the pale fire high,

Where those lay down who never woke, or woke to die.

Sad and commingled, groups that blindly fled

Were swallowed smoothly by the desert dread. 
‘Neath folds of blankness, monuments were raised.

O’er regiments; and History, amazed,

Could not record the ruin of this retreat,—

Unlike a downfall known before, or the defeat

Of Hannibal, reversed and wrapped in gloom,

Of Atilla, when nations met their doom!

Perished an army,—fled French glory then,

Though there the Emperor! He stood and gazed

At the wild havoc, like a monarch dazed

In woodland hoar, who felt the shrieking saw:

He, living oak, beheld his branches fall, with awe.

Chiefs, soldiers, comrades died. But still warm love

Kept those that rose all dastard fear above,

As on his tent they saw his shadow pass,

Backwards and forwards; for they credited, alas!

His fortune’s star! It could not, could not be

That he had not his work to do—a destiny?

To hurl him headlong from his high estate,

Would be high treason in his bondman, Fate.

But all the while he felt himself alone,

Stunned with disasters few have ever known.

Sudden, a fear came o’er his troubled soul,—

What more was written on the Future’s scroll?

Was this an expiation? It must be, yea!

He turned to God for one enlightening ray.

‘Is this the vengeance, Lord of Hosts?’ he sighed;

But the first murmur on his parched lips died.

‘Is this the vengeance? Must my glory set?’

A pause: his name was called; of flame a jet

Sprang in the darkness; a Voice answered: ‘No!

Not yet.’

Outside still fell the smothering snow.

Was it a voice indeed, or but a dream?

It was the vulture’s, but how like the sea-bird’s scream.