This is a translation of an opening poem in Victor Hugo’s lengthy epic cycle La Legende des Siecles. I translated it sometime in 1997-98 (see intro, and more of this translation, here).




She is the earth, she is the plain, she is the field,

she is dear to all who seed while on the march.

.           She offers a bed of moss to fathers,

chilly, she is warmed by an eternal sun,

she laughs, and circles with heaven’s planets turning

.           like sisters around the hearth.


She loves the ray auspicious for moving wounds,

and the formidable cleansing of the winds,

.              and the breaths that blow through lyres,

and the clear and vibrant brow that, when it shines and flies,

it both reassures and terrifies the night

.               by force of its frightful smiles.


Glory to the earth! Glory to dawn where God appears!

To opened eyes flittering through the forest,

.                 to flowers and nests the day engoldens.

Glory to nocturnal whitening of summits!

Glory to heaven, blue and able, without exhaustion,

.                 to afford the expenses of aurora!


The earth loves the tranquil sky, equal for all,

whose serenity does not depend on us,

.                  who mixes in with our foul disasters,

with our toils, with bursts of mocking effrontery,

with our acts of malice, our rapidities,

.                  the honeysweet profundity of stars.


The earth is calm beside the ocean’s groaning.

The earth is comely with her godly shame

.                concealed below the foliage.

Springtime, her lover, comes in May to kiss her.

She sends him, to appease his haughty thunder,

.                the humble smoke of villages.


Don’t strike them, thunder! They’re so small, them there.

The earth is good. She is grave, as well, severe.

.                 The roses are pure as she is.

May hope and labor please whoever thinks,

and innocence, her milk, she offers all to drink,

.                 from her breast of justice.


The earth hides gold, and makes the harvests show;

she lays upon the flanks of fleeting seasons

.                 the seed of seasons coming,

through the blue, the eyes that whisper, “Let’s be lovers!”

and shadow’s deeper sources, and on the mountains

.                 the oak trees’ mighty trembling.


Under heaven her august deed is harmony.

She orders the reeds to bow to, joyously

.             and satisfied, the tree superb.

Balance the chariot, the low loving the high,

so that the mighty cedar may gain, by right,

.            the consent of a sprig of herb.


With the grave she equalizes all, and confounds

with dead cowherds the ash that was, compounded,

.              the Caesars and Alexanders.

She sends to heaven souls and guards the animal;

she ignores, in her vast effacement of evil,

.              the difference between two cinders.


She pays to each her debt: to day the night,

to night the day, the plant to rocks, to flowers fruit;

.              whatever she creates, she nurtures.

The tree is confident while man is uncertain.

O confrontation that puts our fate to shame,

.              o great and sacred nature!


She was the cradle of Adam and of Japhet,

and then she was their tomb; and it is her who makes-

.                in Tyre that, today, we do not see,

in Sparta and Rome in toil, in Memphis cast down,

in all the places man has spoken, then your town-

.               the sonorous cicada sing.


Why? To pacify the sleeping tombs.

Why? Because there’s need, upon collapse and doom,

.             of apotheoses to succeed

the voices of dissent, the voices of assent,

the vanishings of evanescent man,

.            the mysterious song of things.


The earth is friendly with the harvesters; at dusk,

she’ll chase from the horizon, vast and black,

.               the voracious swarm of rasping crows,

at the hour the bull tells them, “Let’s turn in now,”

when the brown laborers wind their ways back, drawing,

.               like armor, their scythes and plows.


She does not cease to birth flowers that don’t endure;

the flowers never found to reproach their Lord;

.                from virgin lilies, from vines mature,

from myrtles trembling in the wind, never a cry

rises to the venerable sky, who’s softened by

.                the innocence of murmurs.


Underneath dense boughs she writes her secret leaves.

She does whatever’s possible, and lavishes peace

.                on stones, on trees, on plants,

to enlighten us, we children of Shem and Hermes,

who are condemned to never read, except

.                by trembling luminescence.


Her aim is nativity, it is not death,

it is the mouth that speaks, not biting teeth.

.             When wars, defaming streets, hollow

out of man a vile furrow of bloodshed,

fierce, she turns her gaze away indignant

.             from this sinister plow.


Mutilated, she demands of man: “For what

this devastation? What fruit swells in a desert?

.              Why kill the plain so green?”

She finds no use in our malicious wills,

and mourns the virginal beauty of the fields

.               dishonored by pure ruin.


Of old the earth was Ceres, Alma Ceres,

blue-eyed mother of meadows, of corn and forests;

.                  and I would have her say still more:

“Children, I am Demeter, goddess of the gods,

and you will build for me a splendid temple

.                 on the hill called Callicore.”


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