Tuesday, 25 December 2007

BOOK I, 'Society Saved' 2: 'Toulon'

I
Once on a time there was a fallen town
Seized by the English, those great ocean-masters,
Hammered by cannon, terror smashed it down,
Gone as the lightning blasts her.

This city shuddered as the thunder rolled
When the night fell, and when the morning came,
Seized Albion in its claws, and so took hold
Of the Republic again.

Death-ships rode below the harbourwalls
The houses tumbling as the ordnance spoke
On the raging seafront black cannons all
Rolled out streams of smoke.

To hear the forts growl, see gunpowder leaping!
Fires blazing fierce, wavetops glittering bright
And, like a frightful star that scatters lightning
The bomb burst in the night.

Sombre history! What times! Illustrious types!
Chaos all—the masts snapped—walls smashed and destroyed—
Bombardment—the whistle of the bosun’s pipes,
Darkness, and horror, and noise!

O France! Your arch of worldwide span, the
Great force of those Revolutionary times;
Kings, to quell you, unleashed tigers, panthers—
You unleashed lions.

The Republic had fourteen armies, all told;
We fought on seas, warred beneath mountain skies,
A hundred victories spread Fame a hundredfold.
We saw giants arise!

Those were great days! A new dawn, brilliance-crowned!
Light! Out of it the mysterious ones came
Standing tall, making their proud trumpets sound
Speaking their secret names.

They turned their days to holy offerings
Crying: ‘Freedom! Vanquish tyrants! Die for France!
War!’—and Glory opened out her mighty wings
To shelter their advance.

II
The same town now? Tides of shame pour on her
She’s home to all that’s abject, evil, horrid,
A place for those prepared to stain their honour
To dye their souls blood-red.

She’s home to the False-coiner and his forge
The Liar, the Trader selling false-weight goods,
The Thug who ambushes and coups the gorge
Of travellers in the woods,

There, when the clock strikes the appointed hour
Always, what he’d have shunned and what commanded,
The hideous pirate, the thief, the forger
The parricide, the bandit,

Whether leaving a palace or a hut of dirt,
Comes, and finds a hand, as cold as any lock
Forcing onto his back a scarlet shirt
On his neck an iron stock!

Day breaks on both: us in red, them in grey,
Up now! Time to cross over darkened oceans
Their chains seem to wake-up as well, and say
Here now! Off we go, sons!

They march, present their manacles to the hammer
To bolt the chains fast, stagger onward clanking,
Dragging in hideous rags their scarlet shame there,
Humbled, angry, shocking.

Hats pulled down to eyes, their unshod feet ache
Worn-out since dawn, dead-eyed and heavy-limbed,
They crush stones, break rocks, themselves take no break
Yesterday, tomorrow, without end.

Rain or shine, winter, summer, in burning June,
Or January’s rain, their destiny outspread,
The memory of their crimes to light their gloom
A plank of wood their bed.

At night, a troop of snitches roll-calls them,
And they climb two-by-two to the pontoon,
Bruised, beaten, hearts crippled with shame
Backs curved beneath the baton.

One thought is in their heads, and without cease
The living-dead, toil's slaves, those marked like Cain
They crawl; they take the whip like beasts
And take the shame like men.

III
Town sown with seeds of infamy and glory
Where iron shears cut the pensive convict’s hair
O Toulon!—the beginning of the uncle’s story,
The nephew’s last chapter.

Go, fool! This cannonball, forged in more stoic
Times by our Great Soldier (you deride him!), put
Into the gun with his own hands, heroic?
You’ve aimed it at your foot!



2 - Toulon

I
En ces temps-là, c'était une ville tombée
Au pouvoir des Anglais, maîtres des vastes mers,
Qui, du canon battue et de terreur courbée,
Disparaissait dans les éclairs.

C'était une cité qu'ébranlait le tonnerre
À l'heure où la nuit tombe, à l'heure où le jour naît,
Qu'avait prise en sa griffe Albion, qu'en sa serre
La République reprenait.

Dans la rade couraient les frégates meurtries;
Les pavillons pendaient troués par le boulet;
Sur le front orageux des noires batteries
La fumée à longs flots roulait.

On entendait gronder les forts, sauter les poudres;
Le brûlot flamboyait sur la vague qui luit;
Comme un astre effrayant qui se disperse en foudres
La bombe éclatait dans la nuit.

Sombre histoire! Quel temps! Et quelle illustre page!
Tout se mêlait, le mât coupé, le mur détruit,
Les obus, le sifflet des maîtres d'équipage,
Et l'ombre, et l'horreur, et le bruit.

Ô France ! Tu couvrais alors toute la terre
Du choc prodigieux de tes rébellions.
Les rois lâchaient sur toi le tigre et la panthère,
Et toi, tu lâchais les lions.

Alors la République avait quatorze armées.
On luttait sur les monts et sur les océans.
Cent victoires jetaient au vent cent renommées.
On voyait surgir les géants!

Alors apparaissaient les aubes rayonnantes.
Des inconnus, soudain éblouissant les yeux,
Se dressaient, et faisaient aux trompettes sonnantes
Dire leurs noms mystérieux.

Ils faisaient de leurs jours de sublimes offrandes;
Ils criaient: Liberté! guerre aux tyrans! mourons!
Guerre! -- et la gloire ouvrait ses ailes toutes grandes
Au-dessus de ces jeunes fronts!

II
Aujourd'hui c'est la ville où toute honte échoue.
Là, quiconque est abject, horrible et malfaisant,
Quiconque un jour plongea son honneur dans la boue,
Noya son âme dans le sang.

Là, le faux-monnayeur pris la main sur sa forge.
L'homme du faux serment et l'homme du faux poids,
Le brigand qui s'embusque et qui saute à la gorge
Des passants, la nuit, dans les bois,

Là, quand l'heure a sonné, cette heure nécessaire,
Toujours, quoi qu'il ait fait pour fuir, quoi qu'il ait dit,
Le pirate hideux, le voleur, le faussaire,
Le parricide, le bandit,

Qu'i1 sorte d'un palais ou qu'il sorte d'un bouge,
Vient, et trouve une main, froide comme un verrou,
Qui sur le dos lui jette une casaque rouge
Et lui met un carcan au cou!

L'aurore luit, pour eux sombre et pour nous vermeille.
Allons! debout! Ils vont vers le sombre Océan.
Il semble que leur chaîne avec eux se réveille,
Et dit: me voilà; viens-nous-en!

Ils marchent, au marteau présentant leurs manilles,
À leur chaîne cloués, mêlant leurs pas bruyants,
Traînant leur pourpre infâme en hideuses guenilles,
Humbles, furieux, effrayants.

Les pieds nus, leur bonnet baissé sur leurs paupières,
Dès l'aube harassés, l'œil mort, les membres lourds,
Ils travaillent, creusant des rocs, roulant des pierres,
Sans trêve, hier, demain, toujours.

Pluie ou soleil. hiver, été, que juin flamboie,
Que janvier pleure, ils vont, leur destin s'accomplit,
Avec le souvenir de leurs crimes pour joie,
Avec une planche pour lit.

Le soir, comme un troupeau l'argousin vit les comptes.
Ils montent deux à deux l'escalier du ponton,
Brisés, vaincus, le cœur incliné sous la honte.
Le dos courbé sous le bâton.

La pensée implacable habite encore leurs têtes.
Morts vivants, aux labeurs voués, marqués au front,
Ils rampent, recevant le fouet comme des bêtes,
Et comme des hommes l'affront.

III
Ville que l'infamie et la gloire ensemencent,
Où du forçat pensif le fer tond les cheveux,
Ô Toulon! c'est par toi que les oncles commencent,
Et que finissent les neveux!

Va, maudit! Ce boulet que, dans des temps stoïques,
Le grand soldat, sur qui ton opprobre s'assied.
Mettait dans les canons de ses mains héroïques,
Tu le traîneras à ton pied!

Ecrit en arrivant à Bruxelles, 12 décembre 1851

3 comments:

Amelia Fedo said...

First off, I want to commend you for your stamina; this is an incredibly ambitious project, and not something I would dare to do. Translating verse is very difficult, and something I do only under protest; I choose to leave it to the geniuses for whom it appears effortless (e.g. Richard Wilbur). However, since I'm something of a specialist on the topic Hugo is discussing (the Bagne of Toulon), I noticed a few mistakes, mostly details you wouldn't have any reason to know about.

1) "They march, present their manacles to the hammer/To bolt the chains fast"

You've misunderstood the nature of the event Hugo is describing (again, not something you could know about without researching the bagne). The chains were permanent; what is happening is not a fastening, but rather a testing, to make sure the convicts have not been tampering with their irons. This happened twice daily—it's the morning ritual Hugo is evoking. I believe you're conflating the line "au marteau présentant leurs manilles" with "À leur chaîne cloués"; although they follow one another, these are two separate thoughts, with no enjambement. "À leur chaîne cloués" has nothing to do with the hammer—"cloués" here just means "pinned," "stuck." Hugo is underscoring the inseparability of the forçat from his chain.

Amelia Fedo said...

2) "scarlet shame"

I might be wrong, but I think the phrase "pourpre infâme" is supposed to be an ironic contrast, since "pourpre" is the word used to refer to the Tyrian purple of nobility. It can also mean crimson, however, and so describes the color of the bagnards' uniforms. It's hard to keep the pun in English since we don't have a single word that can both mean red and Tyrian purple, but I still think the ironic evocation of a color of prestige needs to be kept to preserve the contradiction in the phrase (nobility mixed with infamy). "Scarlet shame" is less subtle because we already associate scarlet with badges of shame (i.e. the scarlet letter) and so the image loses its piquancy.

Amelia Fedo said...

3) "Go, fool!"

Not sure "fool" is the best translation for "maudit," since Hugo's highlighting the shame and opprobrium the town is now covered in. Probably best to keep the meaning of cursedness and wretchedness.

4) "This cannonball, forged in more stoic
Times by our Great Soldier (you deride him!), put
Into the gun with his own hands, heroic?
You’ve aimed it at your foot!"

There's a few problems here which are best explained if I do a loose prose translation of these lines:

"In more stoic times, the great soldier, upon whom your shame now rests, put this cannonball into the cannons with his heroic hands; you'll drag it at your ankle!"

It's unclear to me whom Hugo is addressing; it could be the city of Toulon itself, or it could be a generic forçat (who is now shaming the memory of the soldiers during the Siege of Toulon), or it could be Napoleon III; depends on what the referent is for the "opprobre" in "sur qui ton opprobre s'assied." I'm leaning towards Toulon, since the stanza begins with an apostrophic address to the city.

Anyway, my main point is that the important image here is that of a cannonball that's gone from an honorable instrument of war to a prisoner's ball and chain; it's started out glorious and useful and become shameful and burdensome. The image is a particularly good one because it works on a literal level: cannonballs were used in warfare (presumably during the Siege of Toulon), and they were also used on the forçats as a restraint. (Hugo ignores the fact that the ball as round shot and the ball as restraint aren't actually mutually exclusive, since the bagne absolutely existed during Napoleon's rule; in fact, he ignores this fact throughout the whole poem, but that's okay, since the main purpose is to excoriate Napoleon III.)

There are a few other problems: "deride" isn't the right word ("dishonor" would be better"), and I'm not sure why there's a question mark after "heroic." But the biggest problem is in substituting the image of a foot being shot with a cannonball for the one of a ball and chain. ("Traîner" means "drag," not "aim.")

Anyway, good job with this...I liked what you did with the other images in this poem. And the effort with the rhyme scheme and meter is admirable; it's a monumental task.