Selected Poetry

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This generous, varied selection of poems by one of France's best-loved and most reviled poets is presented with facing originals, detailed notes, and a lively introduction to the author's life and work.

Steven Monte presents more than eighty poems in translation and in the original French, taken from the earliest poetic publications of the 1820's, through collections published during exile, to works published in the years following Hugo's death in 1883. The introduction provides helpful background information about Hugo's life and work, the selection, and what is involved in translating a poet whose effortless rhymes are central to the poetry's power. Detailed notes at the back of the volume offer information about the poems and their publishing and historical contexts. This is an ideal introduction to a poet whose work, for all its renown, remains for Anglophone readers undiscovered.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780415940764
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 4/28/2002
  • Series: Fyfield Books Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 340
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Victor Hugo
Victor Hugo
"If a writer wrote merely for his time, I would have to break my pen and throw it away," the larger-than-life Victor Hugo once confessed. Indeed, this 19th-century French master's works -- from the epic drama Les Misérables to the classic unrequited love story The Hunchback of Notre Dame -- have spanned the ages, their themes of morality and redemption ever applicable to our times.


Novelist, poet, dramatist, essayist, politician, and leader of the French Romantic movement from 1830 on, Victor-Marie Hugo was born in Besançon, France, on February 26, 1802. Hugo's early childhood was turbulent: His father, Joseph-Léopold, traveled as a general in Napoléon Bonaparte's army, forcing the family to move frequently. Weary of this upheaval, Hugo's mother, Sophie, separated from her husband and settled in Paris. Victor's brilliance declared itself early in the form of illustrations, plays, and nationally recognized verse. Against his mother's wishes, the passionate young man fell in love and secretly became engaged to Adèle Foucher in 1819. Following the death of his mother, and self-supporting thanks to a royal pension granted for his first book of odes, Hugo wed Adèle in 1822.

In the 1820s and 1830s, Victor Hugo came into his own as a writer and figurehead of the new Romanticism, a movement that sought to liberate literature from its stultifying classical influences. His 1827 preface to the play Cromwell proclaimed a new aesthetic inspired by Shakespeare, based on the shock effects of juxtaposing the grotesque with the sublime. The great success of Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) confirmed Hugo's primacy among the Romantics.

By 1830 the Hugos had four children. Exhausted from her pregnancies and her husband's insatiable sexual demands, Adèle began to sleep alone, and soon fell in love with Hugo's best friend, the critic Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve. They began an affair. The Hugos stayed together as friends, and in 1833 Hugo met the actress Juliette Drouet, who would remain his primary mistress until her death 50 years later.

Personal tragedy pursued Hugo relentlessly. His jealous brother Eugène went permanently insane following Victor's wedding to Adèle. His daughter, Léopoldine, together with her unborn child and her devoted husband, died at 19 in a boating accident on the Seine. Hugo never fully recovered from this loss.

Political ups and downs ensued as well, following the shift of Hugo's early royalist sympathies toward liberalism during the late 1820s. He first held political office in 1843, and as he became more engaged in France's social troubles, he was elected to the Constitutional Assembly following the February Revolution of 1848. After Napoléon III's coup d'état in 1851, Hugo's open opposition created hostilities that ended in his flight abroad from the new government.

Declining at least two offers of amnesty -- which would have meant curtailing his opposition to the Empire -- Hugo remained in exile in the Channel Islands for 19 years, until the fall of Napoléon III in 1870. Meanwhile, the seclusion of the islands enabled Hugo to write some of his most famous verse as well as Les Misérables (1862). When he returned to Paris, the country hailed him as a hero. Hugo then weathered, within a brief period, the siege of Paris, the institutionalization of his daughter Adèle for insanity, and the death of his two sons. Despite this personal anguish, the aging author remained committed to political change. He became an internationally revered figure who helped to preserve and shape the Third Republic and democracy in France. Hugo's death on May 22, 1885, generated intense national mourning; more than two million people joined his funeral procession in Paris from the Arc de Triomphe to the Panthéon, where he was buried.

Author biography from the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Good To Know

Hugo was seen by his fans as a grand, larger-than-life character -- and rumors spread that he could eat half an ox in one sitting, fast for three days, and then work without stopping for a week.

Hugo owned a pet cat named Gavroche -- the name of one of the primary characters in Les Misérables.

The longest sentence ever written in literature is in Les Misérables; depending on the translation, it consists of about 800 words.

When Hugo published Les Misérables, he was on holiday. After not hearing anything about its reception for a few days, Hugo sent a telegram to his publisher, reading, simply:


The complete reply from the publisher:


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    1. Also Known As:
      Victor-Marie Hugo
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 26, 1802
    2. Place of Birth:
      Besançon, France
    1. Date of Death:
      May 22, 1885
    2. Place of Death:
      Paris, France

Table of Contents

To My Odes 3
The Captive 5
Moonlight 9
The Djinns 11
Reverie 17
Rapture 19
The Slope of Reverie 21
Setting Suns (II) 29
Setting Suns (VI) 31
To the Column 33
To Albrecht Durer 39
'The war that scoundrel wages ...' 41
The Cow 43
'Just as in a forest's drowsy pools ... ' 45
Written on the pane of a Flemish window 45
Olympio's Sadness 47
Oceano Nox 55
June Nights 59
Memory of the Night of the Fourth 61
What the poet said to himself in 1848 63
The Expiation 65
To the People 85
Stella 87
'Blow forever, trumpets of thought ... ' 89
'It was raining that night ... ' 91
'The poet goes away into the fields ... ' 95
My Two Daughters 95
'The clarity that fills ... ' 97
To Andre Chenier 99
Life in the Fields 99
Reply to an Act of Accusation 105
Vere Novo 115
The Party at Therese's 115
'Happy the man ... ' 121
A Stop in the Middle of a Walk 121
The Spinning Wheel of Omphale 125
Letter 127
Words Spoken in the Shadows 129
Written on the Bottom of a Crucifix 131
'Seeing her grandmother occupied spinning wool ... ' 131
Magnitudo Parvi 131
'I felt I had gone mad ... ' 135
'She had formed this habit ... ' 135
'She was place ... ' 137
'Oh spring! oh dawn! on memories! ... ' 139
Veni, Vidi, Vixi 143
'Tomorrow, at dawn ... ' 145
At Villequier 147
Mors 155
The Beggar 157
Words on the Dunes 159
Mugitusque Boum 161
'I paid the fisherman ... ' 163
Shepherds and Flocks 165
'I gathered this flower for you on the hill ... ' 167
'Strophe of the poet ... ' 169
'A shade was waiting ... ' 171
'One day the solemn spirit ... ' 173
Clearing 173
Nomen, Numen, Lumen 175
To the One Who Stayed Behind in France 177
Sowing Season, Evening 197
'The troop of children read and spell ... ' 197
The Lion's Midday Sleep 201
'I'm setting out to narrate that horrific year ... ' 203
On Top of Paris's Ramparts 203
1 January 205
Letter to a Woman 205
Open Windows 211
Jeannine Asleep ('She's asleep ... ') 211
Conscience 215
Boaz Asleep 217
Christ's First Encounter with the Tomb 223
The Hydra 229
Mohammed 229
The Parricide 229
The Work of the Prisoners 237
The Infanta's Rose 241
After the Battle 253
The Sister of Mercy 255
After the Battle of the Caudine Forks 257
Et Nox Facta Est 259
'The hexameter ... ' 261
The Theophile Gautier 261
Notes 267
Index of Titles 296
Index of First Lines 301
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