This is the third post in a series of my English translations from Victor Hugo’s L’art d’être Grand-Père. Hugo wrote a series of poems to his grandchildren, Georges and Jeanne, after he became their guardian following their parent’s untimely death in 1871. Several of these poems were written about his daily walks with his grandchildren in the Jardin des Plantes and my next three blogs will refer to these precious promenades in the Jardin des Plantes; however, I am writing today’s blog as a tribute to my blog followers in Guernesey.
Guernsey (Guernesey is the French spelling) is one of the Channel Islands in the English Channel (or known as La Manche to those who live in France!) near the French coast. There is evidence of Roman settlement from 100 AD in the ruins of La Plaiderie and St Peter Port. The most interesting fact about Guernsey, for me, is that this was a great inspiration for Victor Hugo and his family after they moved into the Hauteville House in 1855. Here Hugo completed or published such great works as: Les Contemplations’(1856), Les Misérables (1862), La Legende des siecles (1877), William Shakespeare (1864), Les Chansons des rues et des bois (1865), L’Homme qui rit (1869), Quatre-Vingt-Treize (1874) and Les Travailleurs de la mer (1866) in which Hugo wrote, “I dedicate this book to the rock of hospitality, to this corner of old Norman land where resides the noble little people of the sea, to the Island of Guernsey, severe and yet gentle…”.
In L’Autre, Hugo is discovering the joys of being a grandfather as he and Georges are walking along the shore in the early morning, enjoying the ‘sentimental air’ in the blooms of spring. He refers to being a grandfather as “to reenter the dawn”, or perhaps a rebirth into a second childhood; the joys of introducing them to a new world and being inspired by their sense of wonderment and awe. Last week, my grandson George referred to his long-sleeved plaid shirt as “PopPop’s shirt”, as his granddaddy often wears plaid! This connection he made brought such joy to our hearts.
Being a grandparent is also a paradox. As we begin to feel life’s burdens and trials take its toll on our bodies, being around our grandchildren make us feel young again. As Hugo states, “The joyous old man mixes himself with the triumphant marmot…our somber soul with these white souls.” What an incredible part of life when we have the opportunity to offer our grandchildren a perspective of time and great memories and heritage of family.
L’Autre par Victor Hugo
from L’art d’être Grand-Père, A Guernesey
Viens, mon George. Ah ! les fils de nos fils nous enchantent
Ce sont de jeunes voix matinales qui chantent.
Ils sont dans nos logis lugubres le retour
Des roses, du printemps, de la vie et du jour !
Leur rire nous attire une larme aux paupières,
Et de notre vieux seuil fait tressaillir les pierres ;
De la tombe entr’ouverte et des ans lourds et froids
Leur regard radieux dissipe les effrois ;
Ils ramènent notre âme aux premières années ;
Ils font rouvrir en nous toutes nos fleurs fanées ;
Nous nous retrouvons doux, naïfs, heureux de rien ;
Le cœur serein s’emplit d’un vague aérien ;
En les voyant on croit se voir soi-même éclore ;
Oui, devenir aïeul c’est rentrer dans l’aurore.
Le vieillard gai se mêle aux marmots triomphants.
Nous nous rapetissons dans les petits enfants.
Et, calmés, nous voyons s’envoler dans les branches
Notre âme sombre avec toutes ces âmes blanches.
My English Translation
Come, my George. Ah! the sons of our sons enchant us
These are of young, early morning voices which sing.
They are in our melancholy dwellings the return
Of Roses, of spring, of life and of day!
Their laugh lures us a tear in the eyelids,
And from our old doorstep makes the stones tremble;
From the half-open tomb and the years heavy and cold
Their radiant gaze dispels fright;
They take our souls back to the first years;
They reopen in us all our faded flowers;
We find ourselves gentle, naive, happy with nothing;
The serene heart fills with a sentimental air;
In seeing them one believes to see himself born;
Yes, to become a grandfather is to reenter the dawn.
The joyous old man mixes himself with the triumphant marmot.
We are shrinking ourselves into small children.
And, calmed, we see flying in the branches
Our somber soul with all these white souls.
Copyright 2017 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)
- Translating Hugo: “The Art of Being a Grandfather: lesson one, The Moom”
- Translating Hugo: “One Year Old”