In the second poem of Le Poème du Jardin des Plantes from L’Art D’Être Grand-Père, Hugo begins with anthropomorphism, “those animals who speak”, to show how the behavior of the animals resembles that of the human species: “their foolish spirit resembles man.” As Hugo is not the first man in history to observe animal behavior, he gives homage to the former writers who use the literary device of anthropomorphism in fables and prophecies: 1) La Fontaine; 2) Homer; 3) Aesop, who “Heard them in Greece and India”, (so cool); and 4) “the mercenary Ezekiel, the bald prophet, /Tawny man, listening to the wild beast speak. “
Hugo also uses personification, where human characteristics, thoughts ideas are related to animals or inanimate objects: “La Fontaine, in the thick grass, lurking, watching, spying” as a predator would stalk his prey.
However, the political aspect is challenging to interpret. As in the first poem, Hugo makes many references to French writers and politicians, typically with negative connotations. I am not familiar enough with the political history of Dupont, Perrault, or monsieur Florian to give much commentary on this aspect of the poem.
Hugo ends his poem showing the negative similarities of man and animal’s behavior as both species: rumble, bray, slander and insult. The moral of this story is….
Translation notes: 1) Dupont de Nemours: Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours was a French writer, economist, publisher and government official. During the French Revolution, he, his two sons and their families immigrated to the United States. 2) Perrault: Charles Perrault, a French writer and member of l’Academie Francaise. 3) Hybla: Gereatis is an ancient city in Sicily on Mt. Etna. 4) vol: two definitions “in flight” or “to steal or rob”
Le Poème du Jardin Des Plantes, Part II (1877)
Les bêtes, cela parle ; et Dupont de Nemours
Les comprend, chants et cris, gaité, colère, amours.
C’est dans Perrault un fait, dans Homère un prodige ;
Pierre prend leur parole au vol et la rédige ;
La Fontaine, dans l’herbe épaisse et le genêt,
Rôdait, guettant, rêvant et les espionnait.
Esope, ce songeur bossu comme le Pinde
Les entendait en Grèce, et Pilpai dans l’Inde ;
Les clairs étangs, le soir, offraient leurs noirs jargons
A monsieur Florian, officier de dragons ;
Et l’âpre Ezéchiel, l’affreux prophète chauve,
Homme fauve, écoutait parler la bête fauve.
Les animaux naïfs dialoguent entre eux.
Et toujours, que ce soit le hibou ténébreux,
L’ours qu’on entend gronder, l’âne qu’on entend braire,
Ou l’oie apostrophant le dindon, son grand frère,
Ou la guêpe insultant l’abeille sur l’Hybla,
Leur bêtise de l’homme ressembla.
My English Translation:
The animals, that speak; and Dupont de Nemours
Understands them, sings and cries, gaiety, anger, love.
It is in Perrault a fact, in Homer a prodigy;
Pierre steals their word and writes it;
La Fontaine, in thick grass and the broom,
Lurking, watching, dreaming and spying on them.
Aesop, this hunchbacked dreamer like Pindus
Heard them in Greece, and Pilpai in India;
The clear ponds, in the evening, offering their black jargon
To Mr. Florian, officer of dragoons;
And the mercenary Ezekiel, the bald prophet,
Tawny man, listening to the wild beast speak.
The naive animals talk to each other.
And always, be it the dark owl,
The bear that we hear rumble, the donkey we hear bray,
Or the goose apostrophizing the turkey, his big brother,
Or the wasp insulting the bee on the Hybla,
Their foolish spirit resembles man.
Copyright 2017 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)
**Happy Birthday to my husband of 35 years. Thank you for introducing me to the Jardin des Plantes and the many promenades we made through these beautiful gardens and your patience of my “3-hour-tours” at the Galerie d’Evolution. Je t’aime.