jardin 3
Jardin des Plantes, 2018


This post is the second part of Hugo’s seventh poem in the series Le Poème du Jardin Des Plantes (see VII a here). This break in typography takes us on a journey to the great countries represented in the Jardin: the deserts of Africa, of America, and of India; the jungles, the rivers, the forests and even to the Moon! One hundred years later, the first man will be walking on these “landscapes”. I’m sure Hugo could not even imagine this. Jules Verne possibly imagined it!

Hugo also references the animals he is seeing in the menagerie from these countries: the baboons, the lions, and the “terrible monsters” also known as Behemoths and Leviathan which are identified in Job 40 and 41 as the hippopotamus and crocodile. Hugo, no doubt, had also visited the Galerie d’Evolution in the Jardin des Plantes which houses Behemoths and Leviathan such as Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops and Diplodocus . One of my favorite places to visit in Paris!


2016 Jan Galerie d'evo (65)
My Diplodocus, a Behemoth in the Galerie d’Evolution, 2016


In the second part of this section, Hugo addresses God, the great Creator, personally with the anaphora “You create…you condense…you give…you make…you work”. He switches to the third person in, “God, when he made the monkeys, dreamed of Scaramouche (see notes)” in one stanza but then returns back to the second person “you form… you work…your verve”.

I love the last eight lines where Hugo brings us back to the world of children:

       The newborn who comes out of the shadows and the mystery
       Would not be happy to have nothing to see on earth;
       A huge need for astonishment, Voilà! 
      All childhood, and that’s in thinking about this
      That I applaud, nature, to the giants you form;
      The blue eyes of the innocent wants to see huge beasts;

Hugo is reminding us of the childlike wonder that is in all of us: the need for astonishment, the need to see “huge beasts”.


jardins snow 2
Jardin des Plantes



**The photos for this post were recently taken in Paris at the Jardin des Plantes, the menagerie also, during an incredible winter snow storm (Jan 2018). Enjoy!

Translation notes :
1) Zoroastre is an opera by Jean-Philippe Rameau first performed in 1749 in Paris.
2) Baobab is the common name of a genus of trees (Adansonia). There are nine species. Six species live in the drier parts of Madagascar, two in mainland Africa, one in Australia and three in India.
3) casoar: a plume 4) Scaramouche= a stock clown of comedy, from Italian operas
4) Behemoths and Leviathan=a scripture reference in Job 40 and 41 to large animals such as hippopotamus and crocodile, possibly dinosaurs.

Le Poème du Jardin Des Plantes, Part VII b (1877) by Victor Hugo

Afrique aux plis infranchissables,
O gouffre d’horizons sinistres, mer des sables,
Sahara, Dahomey, lac Nogain, Darfour,
Toi, l’Amerique, et toi, l’Inde, âpre carrefour
Où Zorastre fait la rencontre d’Homère,
Paysages de lune où rode la chimère,
Où l’orang-outang marche un bâton à la main,
Où la nature est folle et n’a plus rien d’humain,
Jungles par les sommets de la fièvre rêvées,
Plaines où brusquement on voit des arrivées
De fleuves tout à coup grossis et déchainés,
Où l’on entend rugir les lions étonnés
Que l’eau montante enferme en des iles subites,
Déserts dont les gavials sont les noirs cénobites,
Où le boa, sans souffle et sans tréssaillement,
Semble un tronc d’arbre à terre et dort affreusement,
Terre des baobabs, des bambous, des lianes,
Songez que nous avons des Georges et des Jeannes,
Créez des monstres ; lacs, forêts, avec vos monts,
Vos noirceurs et vos bruits, composez des mammons ;
Abîmes, condensez en eux toutes vos gloires,
Donnez-leur vos rochers pour dents et pour mâchoires,
Pour voix votre ouragan, pour regard votre horreur ;
Donnez-leur des aspects de pape et d’empereur,
Et faites par-dessus les halliers, leur étable
Et leur palais, bondir leur joie épouvantable.

Certes le casoar est un bon sénateur,
L’oie a l’air d’un évêque et plaît sa hauteur.
Dieu, quand il fit le singe, a rêvé Scaramouche,
Le colibri m’enchante et j’aime l’oiseau-mouche,
Mais ce que de ta verve, ô nature, j’attends,
Ce sont les Béhémoths et les Léviathans.
Le nouveau-né qui sort de l’ombre et du mystère
Ne serait pas content de ne rien voir sur terre ;
Un immense besoin d’étonnement, voilà
Toute l’enfance, et c’est en songeant à cela
Que j’applaudis, nature, aux géants que tu formes ;
L’œil bleu des innocents veut des bêtes énormes ;
Travaillez, dieux affreux ! Soyez illimités
Et féconds, nous tenons à vos dictames,
O déserts, attendu que les hippopotames,
Que les rhinocéros et que les éléphants
Sont évidemment faits pour les petits enfants.


My English Translation :

Africa with impenetrable folds,
O abyss of sinister horizons, sea of sand,
Sahara, Dahomey, lake Nogain, Darfour,
You, America, and you, India, bitter crossroads
Where Zoraster meets Homer,
Moon landscapes where rode the chimera,
Where the orangutan walks, a baton in his hand,
Where nature is folly and there is nothing human,
Jungles by the summits of exciting dreams,
Plains where suddenly we see arrivals
Of rivers suddenly swollen and unleashed,
Where we hear roaring astonished lions
That the rising water encloses in the sudden,
Deserts whose gavials are cenobite blacks,
Where the boa, without breath and without quivering,
Seems like a fallen tree trunk and sleeps horribly,
Land of baobabs, bamboo, lianas,
Remember that we have Georges and Jeannes,

You create monsters; lakes, forests, with your mountains,
Your darkness and your noises, you compose mammals;
Abyss, you condense in them all your glories,
You give them your rocks for teeth and for jaws,
To voice in your hurricane, to look at your horror;
You give them aspects of the pope and the emperor,
And you make over the thickets, their stables
And their palaces, to leap their frightful joy.
Certainly, the cassowary is a good senator,
The goose looks like a bishop and is pleased by his height.
God, when he made the monkey, dreamed Scaramouche,
The hummingbird enchants me and I like the hummingbird,
But what of your verve, oh nature, I wait,
These are the Behemoths and the Leviathans.
The newborn who comes out of the shadows and the mystery
Would not be happy to have nothing to see on earth;
A huge need for astonishment, Voilà!
All childhood, and that’s in thinking about this
That I applaud, nature, to the giants you form;
The blue eyes of the innocent wants to see huge beasts;
You work, ugly gods! Be unlimited
And fruitful, we hold to your dictatorships,
O deserts, waited for the hippopotami,
That the rhinos and the elephants
Are obviously made for small children.

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

jardin snow 4