Translating Victor Hugo: The Art of Being a Grandfather: Lesson One, The Moon


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There is no experience in life that can compare to being a grandparent.  The joy is pure and simple; there are fewer expectations and agendas.  The time I spend with George Walker, 3, and Margot Rose, 9 months, is invaluable; for both sides. In L’Art d’être grand-père (“The Art of Being a Grandfather“) Victor Hugo shares his joys and experiences of being a grandparent in this beautiful book of poems, published in 1877.  They were among the last he wrote. Tragically, Hugo outlived all of his children and became the guardian of Charles’ children after his premature death in 1871. These poems were written shortly after.

This poem, The Art of Being a Grandfather, is taken from his first book of poems, Lesson One. Hugo is exploring nature with his granddaughter Jeanne.  As I read his intimate conversation with her, I am reminded of the special moments with my own grandchildren; of introducing them to a new world and being inspired by their sense of wonderment and awe.

Part II of this post is my English Translation. In the first line, as Hugo describes his little granddaughter sitting in the grass, contemplating her surroundings, I chose “solemn” in the translation of grave to represent the seriousness of Jeanne’s expression as she surveys her surroundings and “pink” for rose as I imagined her little sun-kissed checks and frilly pin-a-fore. I love that Hugo used gruette to describe his protectiveness of Jeanne as one would “watch out for the enemy”. In line 11, Hugo uses rauque and effrayante to describe the chanting of the sea which evokes fear in a child, but is necessary in their quest of wonderment. I also love the ending: As Hugo leads Jeanne to look for the small creatures, she leads her Pop Pop to the heavens!

(*I took a liberty to add Pop Pop to the translation as this is George’s name for his grandfather! I translated Hugo’s One Year Old poem for George: .)


The Art of Being a Grandfather: Lesson One, The Moon by Victor Hugo

 Jeanne songeait, sur l’herbe assise, grave et rose ;
Je m’approchai : —Dis-moi si tu veux quelque chose,
Jeanne ? —car j’obéis à ces charmants amours
Je les guette, et je cherche à comprendre toujours
Tout ce qui peut passer par ces divines têtes.
Jeanne m’a répondu : —Je voudrais vois des bêtes.
Alors je lui montrai dans l’herbe une fourmi.
Vois ! —Mais Jeanne ne fut contente qu’à demi.
—Non, les bêtes, c’est gros, me dit-elle.

Leur rêve,
C’est le grand. L’Océan les attire à sa grève,
Les berçant de son chant rauque, et les captivant
Par l’ombre, et par la fuite effrayante du vent ;
Ils aiment l’épouvante, il leur faut le prodige.
—Je n’ai pas d’éléphant sous la main, répondis-je.
Veux-tu quelque autre chose ?  ô Jeanne, on te le doit !
Parle. — Alors Jeanne au ciel leva son petit doigt.
— Ça, dit-elle. — C’était l’heure où le soir commence.
Je vis à l’horizon surgir la lune immense.


II.  My English Translation :

Jeanne sat in the grass, solemn and pink;
I approached her:  “ Tell me, is there something you want,
Jeanne?” You see, by watching over them, by obeying their wishes,
I always hope to understand
All that passes through their divine thoughts.
Jeanne responded to me,
“I would like to see some wild beasts”.
|So I showed her under the grass an ant.
“Look!”  But Jeanne was only half satisfied.
“No, *Pop Pop, wild beasts are large” she told me.

Their dreams,
They are grand.  The ocean pulls them towards the shore,
Rocking them with its hoarse chants, and hypnotizing them
With shadows, and by the frightening flight of the wind;
They love the fear, it is necessary to transport them.
“I don’t have an elephant on hand.
Can you think of something else?” I responded. “O Jeanne,
Tell me!”  So Jeanne looked to the heavens and pointed with her tiny finger.
“That!” she said. It was the hour when the evening began.
I saw just on the horizon the immense moon.

George Walker and Margot Rose

Copyright 2017 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (

 Further Reading

      One Year Old