2012 Study Abroad (52)
Jardin des Plantes, 2012

The sixth poem in Victor Hugo’s Le Poème du Jardin Des Plantes, L’Art D’Être Grand-Père, is dedicated to his granddaughter Jeanne. There is really only one reference to her, the first two lines, where he confirms to Jeanne that he likes animals, much to her amusement!  Unlike the previous poems in this series, there is no political references; just Hugo’s thoughts about God’s creation and Man’s humble understanding of it. Hugo contemplates the “black world” or the limited universe as was known in the 1800’s and the anticipation of eternity where, “the soul will reject the body, as somber rags/ the abject creature will one day be sublime.”



Je ne te cache pas que j’aime aussi les bêtes ;
Cela t’amuse, et moi cela m’instruit ; je sens
Que ce n’est pas pour rien qu’en ces farouches têtes
Dieu met le clair-obscur des grands bois frémissants.

Je suis le curieux qui, né pour croire et plaindre,
Sonde, en voyant l’aspic sous des roses rampant,
Les sombres lois qui font que la femme doit craindre
Le démon, quand la fleur n’a pas peur du serpent.

Pendant que nous donnons des ordres à la terre,
Rois copiant le singe et par lui copiés,
Doutant s’il est notre œuvre ou s’il est notre père,
Tout en bas, dans l’horreur fatale, sous nos pieds,

On ne sait quel noir monde étonné nous regarde
Et songe, et sous un joug, trop souvent odieux,
Nous courbons l’humble monstre et la brute hagarde
Qui, nous voyant démons, nous prennent pour des dieux.

Oh ! que d’étranges lois ! quel tragique mélange !
Voit=on le dernier fait, sait-on le dernier mot,
Quel spectre peut sortir de Vénus et quel ange
Peut naitre dans le ventre affreux de Béhémoth ?

Transfiguration ! mystère ! gouffre et cime !
L’âme rejettera le corps, sombre haillon ;
La créature abjecte un jour sera sublime,
L’être qu’on hait chenille on l’aime papillon.

2016 Jan Galerie d'evo (65)
The “Behemoth”, Diplodocus, Galerie d’Evolution, 2015



I do not hide from you that I like animals too;
It amuses you, and it teaches me; I sense
That it is not for nothing that in these ferocious heads
God puts the clear obscure of the great quivering woods.

I am the curious who was born to believe and to pity,
To probe, seeing the aspic under creeping roses,
The dark laws that cause women to fear
The demon, when the flower is not afraid of the snake.

While we give orders to the earth,
Kings copying the monkey and by him copied,
Doubting whether it is our work or if he is our father,
At the bottom, in the fatal horror, under our feet,

We do not know which black world looks at us astonished,
And thinks, under a yoke, too often odious,
We curse the humble monster and the haggard brute
Who, seeing us as demons, take us for gods.

Oh ! what strange laws! what a tragic mixture!
Does one see the last fact, does one know the last word,
What spectrum can come out of Venus and what angel
Can be born in the hideous belly of Behemoth?

Transfiguration! mystery! Abyss and summit!
The soul will reject the body, somber rags;
The abject creature one day will be sublime,
To be that on hates the caterpillar, one loves the butterfly.

56-141407-hugo2 (2)

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