To His Orphan Grandchildren (Poem by Victor Hugo)

Old Poem

To His Orphan Grandchildren
By Victor Hugo

I feel thy presence, Charles. Sweet martyr! down
    In earth, where men decay,
I search, and see from cracks which rend thy tomb,
    Burst out pale morning's ray.

Close linked are bier and cradle: here the dead,
    To charm us, live again:
Kneeling, I mourn, when on my threshold sounds
    Two little children's strain.

George, Jeanne, sing on! George, Jeanne, unconscious play!
    Your father's form recall,
Now darkened by his sombre shade, now gilt
    By beams that wandering fall.

Oh, knowledge! what thy use? did we not know
    Death holds no more the dead;
But Heaven, where, hand in hand, angel and star
    Smile at the grave we dread?

A Heaven, which childhood represents on earth.
    Orphans, may God be nigh!
That God, who can your bright steps turn aside
    From darkness, where I sigh.

All joy be yours, though sorrow bows me down!
    To each his fitting wage:
Children, I've passed life's span, and men are plagued
    By shadows at that stage.

Hath any done — nay, only half performed — 
    The good he might for others?
Hath any conquered hatred, or had strength
    To treat his foes like brothers?

E'en he, who's tried his best, hath evil wrought:
    Pain springs from happiness:
My heart has triumphed in defeat, my pulse
    Ne'er quickened at success.

I seemed the greater when I felt the blow:
    The prick gives sense of gain;
Since to make others bleed my courage fails,
    I'd rather bear the pain.

To grow is sad, since evils grow no less;
    Great height is mark for all:
The more I have of branches, more of clustering boughs,
    The ghastlier shadows fall.

Thence comes my sadness, though I grant your charms:
    Ye are the outbursting
Of the soul in bloom, steeped in the draughts
    Of nature's boundless spring.

George is the sapling, set in mournful soil;
    Jeanne's folding petals shroud
A mind which trembles at our uproar, yet
    Half longs to speak aloud.

Give, then, my children — lowly, blushing plants,
    Whom sorrow waits to seize — 
Free course to instincts, whispering 'mid the flowers,
    Like hum of murmuring bees.

Some day you'll find that chaos comes, alas!
    That angry lightning's hurled,
When any cheer the People, Atlas huge,
    Grim bearer of the world!

You'll see that, since our fate is ruled by chance,
    Each man, unknowing, great,
Should frame life so, that at some future hour
    Fact and his dreamings meet.

I, too, when death is past, one day shall grasp
    That end I know not now;
And over you will bend me down, all filled
    With dawn's mysterious glow.

I'll learn what means this exile, what this shroud
    Enveloping your prime;
And why the truth and sweetness of one man
    Seem to all others crime.

I'll hear — though midst these dismal boughs you sang — 
    How came it, that for me,
Who every pity feel for every woe,
    So vast a gloom could be.

I'll know why night relentless holds me, why
    So great a pile of doom:
Why endless frost enfolds me, and methinks
    My nightly bed's a tomb:

Why all these battles, all these tears, regrets,
    And sorrows were my share;
And why God's will of me a cypress made,
    When roses bright ye were.
July, 1871

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