god-sistine-chapel
God by Michelangelo, the Sistene Chapel, Rome

In Part V of Le Poème du Jardin Des Plantes, Encore Dieu : Mais Avec Des Restrictions, Victor Hugo addresses Le Dieu (God), the creator of this magnificent world. He encourages his readers: “ Let us learn, let us be free, let us love, the heavens are grand; And let us become wise, and stay ignorant.”  Hugo echoes God’s sentiments about his creation found in the book of Genesis as “it is good.” The irony is that God was referring to the world he created before the fall of Man; Hugo’s reference is after!

In addition to admiring the Earth that God created, Hugo gives recognition to the great men such as Euclid, Newton, Job and Reaumur. Creation is overwhelming to man; “the abyss, the prism, the gongorism, the antithesis…Our spirit pushes science and God smiles.”  Man says enough and God says, again!

Hugo concludes with the thought that as much as we try to figure out God’s plans and purposes, we cannot. God creates without explanation. “As God shapes the world to his will in full azure”. Hugo wishes to ask God about his creation, of the sky and the infinite stars, the tiers of the heavens. In the curious style of Hugo, however, he ends at the Café Procope, the oldest café in Paris where the great philosophers and Intellectuals such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Hugo, and even Benjamin Franklin met with their peers to discuss the meaning of life!

 Translation Notes :
1) Jean-Pons-Guillaume Viennet (18 November 1777 – 10 July 1868) was a French politician, playwright and poet. He was also a member of the Académie français. 2) gongorisme: a literary style characterized by studied obscurity and by the use of various ornate devices 3) Batteux: Charles Batteux (6 May 1713 – 14 July 1780) was a French philosopher and writer on aesthetics 4) Gaston Alexandre Auguste, Marquis de Galliffet, Prince de Martigues (Paris, 23 January 1830 – 8 July 1909), was a French general, best known for having taken part in the repression of the 1871 Paris Commune. 5) Jean Baptiste Gustave Planche : a French critic who was contemptuous of Victor Hugo as a playwright.  6) Baculard: d’Arnaud was in the habit of borrowing small sums from everyone, which he never paid back, including Hugo.  **7) Café Procope: the oldest café in Paris, frequented by Hugo, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Benjamin Franklin. 13 rue de l”ancienne Comédie.

 

 

 Encore Dieu, Mais avec des Restrictions

 Quel beau lieu ! Là le cèdre avec l’orme chuchote,
L’âne est lyrique et semble avoir vu Don Quichotte,
Le tigre en cage a l’air d’un roi dans son palais,
Les pachydermes sont effroyablement laids ;
Et puis c’est littéraire, on rêve à des idylles
De Viennet en voyant bâiller les crocodiles.
Là, pendant qu’au babouin la singesse se vend,
Pendant que le baudet contemple le savant,
Et que le vautour fait au hibou bon visage,
Certes, c’est un emploi du temps digne d’un sage
De s’en aller songer dans cette ombre, parmi
Ces arbres pleins de nids, où tout semble endormi
Et veille, où le refus consent, où l’amour lutte,
Et d’écouter le vent, ce doux joueur de flûte.
Apprenons, laissons faire, aimons, les cieux sont grands ;
Et devenons savants, et restons ignorants.
Soyons sous l’infini des auditeurs honnêtes ;
Rien n’est muet ni sourd ; voyons le plus de bêtes
Que nous pouvons ; tirons parti de leurs leçons.
Parce qu’autour de nous tout rêve, nous pensons.
L’ignorance est un peu semblable à la prière,
L’homme est grand par devant et petit par derrière ;
C’est d’Euclide à Newton, de Job à Réaumur,
Un indiscret qui veut voir par-dessus le mur,
Et la nature, au fond très moqueuse, paraphe
Notre science avec le cou de la girafe.
Tâchez de voir, c’est bien.  Epiez. Notre esprit
Pousse notre science à guetter ; Dieu sourit,
Vieux malin.

Je l’ai dit, Dieu prête à la critique,
Il n’est pas sobre. It est débordant, frénétique,
Inconvenant ; ici le nain, là le géant,
Tout à la fois ; énorme ; il manque de néant.
Il abuse de gouffre, il abuse du prisme.
Tout, c’est trop. Son soleil va jusqu’au gongorisme ;
Lumière outrée. Oui, Dieu vraiment est inégal ;
Ici la Sibérie, et là le Sénégal ;
Et partout l’antithèse ! Il faut qu’on s’y résigne ;
S’il fait noir le corbeau, c’est qu’il fait blanc le cygne ;
Aujourd’hui Dieu nous gèle, hier il nous chauffait.
Comme à l’académie on lui dirait son fait !
Que nous veut la comète ? A quoi sert le bolide ?
Quand on est un pédant sérieux et solide,
Plus on est ébloui, moins on est satisfait ;
La férule à Batteux, le sabre à Galifet
Ne tolèrent pas Dieu sans quelque impatience ;
Dieu trouble l’ordre ; il met sur les dents la science ;
A peine a-t-on fini qu’il faut recommencer !
Il semble que l’on sent dans la main vous glisser
On ne sait quel serpent tout écaillé d’aurore.
Dès que vous avez dit : assez ! il dit : encore !
Ce démagogue donne au pauvre autant de fleurs
Qu’au riche ; il ne sait pas se borner ; ses couleurs,
Ses rayons, ses éclairs, c’est plus qu’on ne souhaite.
Ah ! tout cela fait mal aux yeux ! dit la chouette.
Et la chouette, c’est la sagesse.

Il est sûr
Que Dieu taille à son gré le monde en plein azur ;
Il mêle l’ironie à son tonnerre épique ;
Si l’on plane il foudroie et si l’on broute il pique.
(Je ne m’étonne pas que Planche eût l’air piqué.)
Le vent, voix sans raison, sorte de bruit manque,
Sans jamais s’expliquer et sans jamais conclure
Rabâche, et l’océan n’est pas exempt d’enflure.
Quant à moi, je serais, j’en fais ici l’aveu,
Curieux de savoir ce que diraient de Dieu,
Du monde qu’il régit, du ciel qu’il exagère,
De l’infini, sinistre et confuse étagère,
De tout ce que ce Dieu prodigue, des amas
D’étoiles en tout genre et de tous les formats,
De sa façon d’emplir d’astres le télescope,
Nonote et Baculard dans le Café Procope.

voltaire precope (8)

MY ENGLISH TRANSLATION

What a beautiful place! There the cedar with the elm whispers,
The donkey is lyrical and seems to have been seen in Don Quixote,
The caged tiger has the air of a king in his palace,
The pachyderms are frightfully ugly;
And then it’s literary, one dreams of romance
Of Viennet seeing the yawning crocodiles.
There, while the baboon the great ape is being sold,
While the donkey gazes at the scientist,
And that the vulture looks good to the owl,
Admittedly, it is a timetable worthy of a wise man
To go away thinking in this shadow, among
These trees full of nests, where everything seems to be asleep
And watch, where the refusal consents, where love wrestles,
And listens to the wind, this sweet flute player.
Let us learn, let us be free, let us love, the heavens are grand;
And let us become wise, and stay ignorant.
Let us be under the infinite of honest listeners;
Nothing is silent or deaf; let’s see the most animals
That we can; let’s take advantage of their lessons.
Because around us, we all dream, we think.
Ignorance is a little like prayer,
Man is great from the front and small from behind;
It’s, from Euclid to Newton, from Job to Reaumur,
An indiscreet who wants to see over the wall,
And nature, basically very mocking, initials
Our science with the giraffe’s neck.
Try to see, it is good. Watch closely. Our spirit
Pushes our science to watch; God smiles,
Clever man.

I said, God ascribes to the critic,
He is not sober. He is overflowing, frenetic,
Inconvenient; here the dwarf, there the giant,
All at once; huge; he lacks nothing.
He exploits the abyss, he abuses the prism.
Everything is too much. His sun goes to gongorism;
Exagerated light. Yes, God truly is unequal;
Here is Siberia, and there is Senegal;
And everywhere the antithesis! We must resign ourselves to it;
If the crow is black, it is because the swan is white;
Today God freezes us, yesterday he warmed us.
As at the academy one would tell him this fact!
What does the comet want of us? What is the use of a meteor?
When one is a serious and solid pedant,
The more we are dazzled, the less we are satisfied;
Under the rule of Batteux, the saber of General Galifet
Would not tolerate God without some impatience;
God disturbs the order; he puts science on his teeth;
No sooner have we finished we must start again!
It seems that one feel’s that in the hand, he slips
We do not know which snake, all scales of dawn.
As soon as one says: enough! he says: again!
This demagogue gives the poor as many flowers
As the rich; he does not know how to limit himself; his colors,
His rays, his flashes of lightning, it is more than one could hope for.
Ah! all this hurts the eyes! said the owl.
And the owl, he is wise.

As God shapes the world to his will in full azure;
He mixes irony with his epic thunder;
If one hovers over his lightning and if one grazes, it stings.
(I’m not surprised that Planche appeared stung.)
The wind, a voice without reason, a kind of missing noise,
Without ever explaining himself and without ever concluding
Repeating, and the ocean is not exempt from swelling.
As for me, I would be, I vow here some confession,
Curious to know what God would say,
From the world which he governs, from the sky which he exaggerates,
From the infinite, the sinister and the confusing tier,
Of all this that God lavishes, amasses
From stars of all kinds and all formats,
From his way of filling the telescope with stars,
Nonote and Baculard in Café Procope.

Copyright 2018 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)

Work Cited

Fayard, Artheme, L’art d’etre Grand Pere. L’oeuvre de Victor Hugo. Volume 51. Les                Meilleurs Livres: Paris 1877.