Lettre by Victor Hugo
Normandy is one of my favorite places to visit in France; from the northern cliff-lined coasts of La Manch (English Channel) that our U.S. troops gave their lives to defend, to the rural provinces of Rouen, Giverny Caen, and Bayeux, this enchanting region is full of rich history, quaint country towns, wonderful food and a true experience of French culture.
I love to visit Rouen as it is a small city, easy to get around, and is full of rich history: in just one afternoon you can see where Jeanne d’Arc was imprisoned and executed by fire in 1431, where Francois 1er met Henry VIII of England at the famous meeting at the Field of Cloth of Gold on 7 June 1520 , and the cathedral where Monet painted one of his first series. Most recently, this Rouen Cathedral held the service of the priest who was tragically slain in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, a nearby town.
Bayeaux is also dear to my heart as my husband and I renewed our vows 10 years ago at the Cathedral on our 25th anniversary. Another highlight of this visit was to see The Bayeux Tapestry, an embroidered cloth nearly 70 metres (230 ft) long and 50 centimetres (20 in) tall, which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England concerning William, Duke of Normandy, and Harold, Earl of Wessex, later King of England, and culminating in the Battle of Hastings.
Finally, I highly recommend a visit to Giverny where Monet lived out his final years and painted his famous Les Nympheas to honor France’s Veterans of Wars. I visited the home where Monet lived and painted as well as the beautiful gardens which are kept pretty much to the original landscapes that he painted. Additional French artists who lived in Normandy were Caillebotte, Boudin, Courbet, Millet, Manet and Renoir.
The French Literary community also spent much time living in and writing about Normandy. Victor Hugo travelled around Normandy from 1834 to 1837, exploring and sketching the region’s historic monuments and buildings, wood landscapes and the River Seine. The stretch of the Seine between Paris and Le Havre was featured in some of his novels, including Les Misérables.
The following is a poem by Victor Hugo that captures the beauty of his home in Normandy entitled Lettre. I have included my translation into English.
Tu vois cela d’ici. Des ocres et des craies,
Plaines où les sillons croisent leurs mille raies,
Chaumes à fleur de terre et que masque un Buisson,
Quelques meules de foin debout sur le gazon,
De vieux toits enfumant le paysage bistre,
Un fleuve qui n’est pas le Gange ou le Caystre,
Paurvre cours d’eau normand trouble de sels marins,
Aa droite, vers le nord, de bizarres terrains
Pleins d’angles qu’on dirait faconnés à la pelle,
Voila les premiers plans; une ancienne chapelle
Y mêle son aiguille, et range à ses côtés
Quelques ormes tortus, aux profils irrités,
Qui semblent, fatigues du zephyr qui s’en joue,
Faire une remonstrance au vent qui les secoue.
Une grosse charrette au coin de ma maison
Se rouille, et devant moi j’ai le vaste horizon
Don’t la mer bleue emplit toutes les échancrures.
Des poules et de coqs, étalant leurs dorures,
Causent sous ma fenêtre, et les greniers des toits
Me jettent, par instants, des chansons en patois.
Dans mon allée habite un cordier patriarche,
Vieux qui fait bruyamment tourner sa roue, et marche
A reculons, son chanvre autour des reins tordu.
J’aime ces flots où court le grand vent éperdu;
Les champs à promener tout le jour me convient;
Les petits villageois, leur livre en main, m’enviernt,
Chez le maître d’école où je me suis logé,
Comme un grand écolier abusant d’un congé.
Le ciel rit, l’air est pur; tout le jour, chez mon hôte,
C’est un doux bruit d’enfants épelant à voix haute;
L’eau coule, un verdier passe: et, moi, je dis Merci!
Merci, Dieu tout-puissant!—Ainsi je vis; ainsi,
From here you see ten thousand streaks of ocher and chalk,
Crossing the plains as with ten thousand pinstripes,
Stubble in the flowers which masks the land and bush
Some haystacks standing on the grass,
From old smoking rooftops, the sepia landscape,
And the poor river, not the Ganges or Cayster,
Cloudy water from sea salts,
On the right, to the north, a strange land
Full of angles as if fashioned by a shovel,
This is the foreground. Here a former chapel
Her needle rising over slow moving elms,
In angry profile, which seem fatigued from the zephyr
Who plays, making a remonstrance in the wind
Shaped by the centuries.
A large cart on the corner of my house
Rusting, before me I have the vast horizon
Whose blue sea fills all the indentations.
Hens and roosters, display their gilding,
Chatting under my window, and in the hayloft
Throwing me at moments, by their songs in dialect.
Up the lane lives an old ropemaker,
Noisily turning his wheel, and walks
Backwards, his twisted cord cinched around his hipbones.
How I love these waves where brief the great winds are overcome;
The fields where I walk every day suit me;
The children, their books in hand, watch me
As I stride out of the home of the schoolmaster,
Where I have lodgings, as a great scholar
Taking advantage of a vacation.
The sky laughs, the air is pure; all day in the home of my host,
The sweet voices from the children, at their spelling lessons;
The water flows, a greenfinch passes: and me, I say thank you!
Thank you, Almighty God -as I live!
Copyright 2016 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)