The Function of the Poet

Tanslation by David Bellemare Gosselin

God summons him in times gone awry
When each can’t will, but serves his duty.
For pity to him who to all his brothers
Declares his future in the desert wanders.
Pity to him who wears his sandals
And treads the scorching desert as scandals
Like fiery rains torment each denizen.
Shame upon him whose thoughts disfigured,
Vainly, with dance and praise delivered,
In the city’s comfort, becomes its citizen.

The poet in such days gone awry
From far brings the tidings of better days.
One whose specter is bright and starry
His feet on earth, his eyes on the distant haze.
It is he who clears a conscious way
In every time, the prophet of his day,
As he bears the torch light in his hands,
Be there insult, doubt or sheer dismay,
Like the whispering of a gentle lay
He’ll fly and reach our souls in far off lands.

He see’s the people languid vegetate!
His dreams are always full of Love,
The dark shadows who consecrate
The present and future with that above.
And yet they mock him ceaseless,
Their souls in silent resignation press
In frivolous and contemptuous streams,
Then time and time again
They’ll mock and scorn his holy fen
With deafening laughter and sightless dreams.

Oh people! Listen to the poet,
Listen to the sacred dreamer,
For the night without him is dimly lit
His thoughts alone make each star shimmer.
Futurity and its bright rays pierce the shadows
He alone in each dark specter hallows
That which in the yet ripened bud lies.
With grace of Venus, his palm like Jupiter’s,
Creation softly through him whispers
Like winds through trees and clear blue waves.

It’s he who despite the thorns
The envy and the cold derision
Marches through the ruins
And picks up our tradition.
And from our rich traditions’ fruit
Is all that which in the world takes root,
All that which is by the stars blessed.
All ideas, human or divine
Which draw their roots from long past time
Will by the future’s leafs be dressed.

Shimmering, his blinding rays flutter
Onto eternal verity’s bright fields;
He lights up each soul with resplendent color
With marvelous light his torch he wields.
He lights up the city and the desert
The darkened vales or garden lilies
The winding planes and dizzying heights.
The starry mantle becomes unveiled
For poesie is the bright star availed
By both king or shepherd, tis’ Heaven’s light.


La Fonction du poète

Original French by Victor Hugo

Dieu le veut, dans les temps contraires,
Chacun travaille et chacun sert.
Malheur à qui dit à ses frères :
Je retourne dans le désert !
Malheur à qui prend ses sandales
Quand les haines et les scandales
Tourmentent le peuple agité !
Honte au penseur qui se mutile
Et s’en va, chanteur inutile,
Par la porte de la cité !

Le poète en des jours impies
Vient préparer des jours meilleurs.
ll est l’homme des utopies,
Les pieds ici, les yeux ailleurs.
C’est lui qui sur toutes les têtes,
En tout temps, pareil aux prophètes,
Dans sa main, où tout peut tenir,
Doit, qu’on l’insulte ou qu’on le loue,
Comme une torche qu’il secoue,
Faire flamboyer l’avenir !

Il voit, quand les peuples végètent !
Ses rêves, toujours pleins d’amour,
Sont faits des ombres que lui jettent
Les choses qui seront un jour.
On le raille. Qu’importe ! il pense.
Plus d’une âme inscrit en silence
Ce que la foule n’entend pas.
Il plaint ses contempteurs frivoles ;
Et maint faux sage à ses paroles
Rit tout haut et songe tout bas !

Peuples ! écoutez le poète !
Ecoutez le rêveur sacré !
Dans votre nuit, sans lui complète,
Lui seul a le front éclairé.
Des temps futurs perçant les ombres,
Lui seul distingue en leurs flancs sombres
Le germe qui n’est pas éclos.
Homme, il est doux comme une femme.
Dieu parle à voix basse à son âme
Comme aux forêts et comme aux flots.

C’est lui qui, malgré les épines,
L’envie et la dérision,
Marche, courbé dans vos ruines,
Ramassant la tradition.
De la tradition féconde
Sort tout ce qui couvre le monde,
Tout ce que le ciel peut bénir.
Toute idée, humaine ou divine,
Qui prend le passé pour racine,
A pour feuillage l’avenir.

Il rayonne ! il jette sa flamme
Sur l’éternelle vérité !
Il la fait resplendir pour l’âme
D’une merveilleuse clarté.
Il inonde de sa lumière
Ville et désert, Louvre et chaumière,
Et les plaines et les hauteurs ;
A tous d’en haut il la dévoile ;
Car la poésie est l’étoile
Qui mène à Dieu rois et pasteurs !




David Bellemare Gosselin is a student in classics and languages in Montreal. His website is

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3 Responses

  1. Emma

    merci d’avoir traduit ce poème, mais je peux vous dire que la traduction n’est pas très bonne honnêtement. Le sens n’est pas conservé et en plus il y a d’affreuses fautes d’orthographe… Ça sent le google translate…

    thanks for translating this poem but I have to say it’s not a very accurate translation. The meaning has been changed in several places and there are some pretty blatant grammar mistakes. “He see’s”. Really? That’s pretty bad. Next time maybe don’t use google translate so much


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