At Villequier


Translated from Victor Hugo

Now that Paris, its cobbles and effigies,
And fog and roofs are far enough from my eyes;
Now that I'm beneath the boughs of trees,
And I can muse on the beauty of the skies;

Now that, from the grief that dimmed my soul,
            I rise, pale though not in defeat,
And that I can feel Nature's peaceful whole
            Enter to make my heart complete.

Now that I'm sitting beside the breakers, moved
By this magnificent yet tranquil view,
Within myself I can inspect deep truths,
And look at lawns where blooms are pushing through;

Now that, O God, I have this gloomy peace
            From which henceforth with mine
Own eyes I can see the stone under whose lease
            She now sleeps for all time;

Now that, affected by these sacred visions:
Plains, forests, rocks, valleys, silvery stream,
Seeing my smallness and seeing your inventions,
I regain my reason in the face of the sublime;

I come, Lord, father in whom belief's our duty;
            I bring you, quieted,
The fragments of this heart, full of your beauty,
            Which you have blighted.

I come, Lord, ready to confess that you
Are good, merciful, kind and gentle, living God!
I accept that you alone know what you do
And Man is nothing but a trembling reed;

I say that, as it seals the dead, the tomb
            Opens the universe
And that what we take down here for doom
            Is really the reverse.

I accept on my knees, father beyond compare,
Only you own the vast, the real, the complete;
I accept that it's good, I accept that it is fair
That my heart has bled because God wanted it!

I no longer resist all that will occur
            To me at your volition.
The soul from grief to grief, Man from shore to shore
            Drifts ad infinitum.

We never see more than a single side of cases;
The other swims in fear of the dark unknown.
Man endures the yoke not knowing the basis.
All that he sees is short-lived, vain, wind-blown.

You always reinstate his solitude
            Around where he steps forth.
You have not ever wished him certitude
            Or happiness here on earth.

Anything good he owns, Fate takes away.
No gift was his, these days that disappear,
So that he could put down some roots and say:
My house, my field, and those I love are here.

He must see briefly all that his eyes see.
            He ages without support.
If these things are, it's as they have to be.
            I accept it, I accept it!

The world is dark, O God! The set refrain
Is made of bitter tears as much as song.
Man's but an atom in this vast terrain
Which raises the good and casts away the wrong.

I know you have too much to do up there
            To pity our distress
And that a dying child, her mother's despair
            Means naught or less.

I know that fruits fall in the wind they feel,
That the bird loses its feathers, the flower its blush,
That creation is a huge wheel
Which cannot turn unless someone gets crushed.

The months, the days, the seas, the eyes that cry
            Pass under the blue ether.
The grass must grow and children have to die.
            I know it, Lord my father.

Within your skies, beyond the cloudy sphere,
Deep in that azure blue so still and sleeping,
You do things which to us may seem unclear
But are dependent on our mortal weeping.

Perhaps it's useful to your countless schemes
            That charming beings
Vanish, carried off by the eddying streams
            Of black happenings.

Our shadowy destinies travel beneath vast laws
Which nothing disconcerts or can resolve.
You can't show sudden mercy that might cause
An upset in the world, O God of love.

I beg you, O God, to focus on my soul
            And consider this true,
Meek as a child and gentle as a girl
            I come to worship you.

Consider, too, that I had, since the dawn,
Worked and struggled, thought, marched, tried to fight,
Explaining nature to people uninformed,
Clarifying all with your bright light,

That I had, facing hatred and resentment,
            Done my job here below,
That I could not expect any due payment,
            That I could not, oh no,

Foresee that you too, on my sinking skull,
Would hammer with your heavy arm of glory
And that you, who saw my joys are few and dull,
Would take back my child from me so swiftly;

That a soul so stricken is likely to oppose,
            That I may have set oaths free
And thrown my cries at you as a child throws
            A stone into the sea!

Consider, O my God, that pain brings disbelief,
That the eye, which cries too much will end up blind,
That a man plunged down the dark abyss by grief
Sees you no more and can't bring you to mind,

And it's not to be that man, on his regress
            Deep into afflictions,
Can have within him the sad peacefulness
            Of the constellations!

Today then I, who showed a mother's weakness,
Bow at your feet before your open skies,
I feel enlightened in my bitter bleakness
And look on the universe now with fresher eyes.

Lord, I recognize that man's insane
            If he dare mutter, Why?
I shall neither accuse nor curse at you again
            But let me cry.

Alas, let my eyes overflow with water
Since this is what you have made men to do.
Let me lean low and whisper to my daughter
Through this cold stone, Can you tell I'm here with you?

Let me speak to her, bent above her tomb
            In the evening, devoid of noise,
As if, re-opening her heavenly eyes in the gloom,
            This angel hears my voice.

Alas, turning an envious eye on the past,
With nothing on earth to keep my pain at bay
I'll see that moment in my life to the last
Of watching her spread her wings and fly away.

Yes, I will see that moment till I die—
            Pointless tears!—the time
When I cried, The child I had just now, oh why
            Is she no longer mine?

Do not be angry I still feel this way,
O my God, this unending wound has bled me blind.
The anguish in my soul does not decay
And my poor heart's subdued, but not resigned.

Do not be angry!—at foreheads claimed by grief,
            Mortals prone to tears.
It makes us uneasy to give the soul relief
            From these great sorrows.

You see, to us our children are necessary,
Lord, when we have seen in life, one morning,
In the midst of the burdens, the troubles, the misery,
And fate casting over us its shady warning,

A child appear, a precious sacred head,
            A tiny joyful creature,
So beautiful, you would have thought instead
            A gate of Heaven freed her;

When we've seen in her sixteen summers of
Growing in sweet reason and lovely grace
And so have realized that this child we love
Brings daylight to our soul and dwelling place;

That it's the only joy that isn't brief
            Of all we dreamed down here,
Consider then that it's a bitter grief
            To watch it disappear.

Anna M. Evans’ poems have appeared in the Harvard Review, Atlanta Review, Rattle, American Arts Quarterly, and 32 Poems. She gained her MFA from Bennington College, and is the Editor of the Raintown Review. Recipient of a 2011 Fellowship from the MacDowell Artists' Colony, she currently teaches at West Windsor Art Center and Richard Stockton College of NJ. Her chapbooks Swimming and Selected Sonnets are available from Maverick Duck Press. Her poem, Straight Talk," appearing in Kin is from a chapbook, Saint-Pol-Roux & Other Poems from the French.

Now that Paris, its cobbles and effigies,
And fog and roofs are far enough from my eyes;
Now that I'm beneath the boughs of trees,
And I can muse on the beauty of the skies;