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Soirée en mer (1862)

Soirée en mer

Près du pêcheur qui ruisselle,
Quand tous deux, au jour baissant,
Nous errons dans la nacelle,
Laissant chanter l’homme frêle
Et gémir le flot puissant;
Sous l’abri que font les voiles
Lorsque nous nous asseyons,
Dans cette ombre où tu te voiles
Quand ton regard aux étoiles
Semble cueillir des rayons;
Quand tous deux nous croyons lire
Ce que la nature écrit,
Réponds, ô toi que j’admire,
D’où vient que mon cœur soupire?
D’où vient que ton front sourit?
Dis, d’où vient qu’à chaque lame
Comme une coupe de fiel,
La pensée emplit mon âme?
C’est que moi je vois la rame
Tandis que tu vois le ciel!
C’est que je vois les flots sombres,
Toi, les astres enchantés!
C’est que, perdu dans leurs nombres,
Hélas! je compte les ombres
Quand tu comptes les clartés!
Que sur la vague troublée
J’abaisse un sourcil hagard;
Mais toi, belle âme voilée,
Vers l’espérance étoilée
Lève un tranquille regard!
Tu fais bien. Vois les cieux luire.
Vois les astres s’y mirer.
Un instinct là-haut t’attire.
Tu regardes Dieu sourire;
Moi, je vois l’homme pleurer!

Evening at sea

Next to the drenched fisherman,
When both of us, at the end of the day,
Drift in the boat,
With the frail man singing
And the powerful tide moaning;
Sheltered by the sails
As we sit down,
In this darkness where you veil your face
When, gazing at the stars,
You seem to gather rays;
When both of us think we can read
What nature has written –
O tell me, you whom I admire,
Why is it that my heart sighs?
Why is it that your brow smiles?
Tell me, why is it that at every billow,
Like a cup of bitter gall,
My soul is filled with thoughts?
It is because I gaze at the oar
While you gaze at the sky!
It is because I see the dark waves,
And you the enchanted stars!
It is because, lost in their throng,
Alas! I count up the shadows
And you the light!
It is because I cast a haggard gaze
Onto the muddied waters;
While you, you beautiful veiled soul,
Look up tranquilly
Towards starry hope.
You do well. See how the heavens gleam.
See the stars mirrored there.
An instinct makes you lift your gaze.
You can see God smiling;
While I see mankind weeping!

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Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns was a French composer, organist, conductor, and pianist of the Romantic era. A musical prodigy, he gave his first concert at only 10 years old, before studying at the Paris Conservatoire.

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Victor Marie Hugo was a French poet, novelist, and dramatist of the Romantic movement. He is considered one of the greatest and best-known French writers. In France, Hugo's literary fame comes first from his poetry and then from his novels and his dramatic achievements. Among many volumes of poetry, Les Contemplations and La Légende des siècles stand particularly high in critical esteem. Outside France, his best-known works are the novels Les Misérables, 1862, and Notre-Dame de Paris, 1831 (known in English as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame). He also produced more than 4,000 drawings, which have since been admired for their beauty, and earned widespread respect as a campaigner for social causes such as the abolition of capital punishment.

Though a committed royalist when he was young, Hugo's views changed as the decades passed, and he became a passionate supporter of republicanism; his work touches upon most of the political and social issues and the artistic trends of his time. He is buried in the Panthéon. His legacy has been honoured in many ways, including his portrait being placed on French franc banknotes.

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