PERCEPTIONS: Victor Hugo’s Other Art


Victor Hugo: Mysterious Ruin

Hatching from a nameless gleam of light I see
Monstrous flowers and frightening roses
I feel that out of duty I write all these things
That seem, on the lurid, trembling parchment,
To issue sinisterly from the shadow of my hand.
Is it by chance, great senseless breath
Of the Prophets, that you perturb my thoughts?
So where am I being drawn in this nocturnal azure?
Is it sky I see? Am I in command?
Darkness, am I fleeing? Or am I in pursuit?
Everything gives way. At times I do not know if I am
The proud horseman or the fierce horse;
I have the scepter in my hand and the bit in my mouth.
Open up and let me pass, abysses, blue gulf,
Black gulf! Be silent, thunder! God, where are you leading me?
I am the will, but I am the delirium.
Oh, flight into the infinite! Vainly I sometimes say,
Like Jesus calling out “Lamma Sabacthani,”
Is the way still long? Is it finished,
Lord? Will you soon let me sleep?
The Spirit does what it will. I feel the gusting breath
That Elisha felt, that lifted him;
And in the night I hear someone commanding me to go!


From ‘Le bien germe parfois…’ (Good Sometimes Germinates…),
from the collection Toute la lyre, first published 1888.