Inconsolable: “A Villequier” by Victor Hugo

A Villequier by Victor Hugo

Nothing cheery about this rather long poem and some thoughts here may not be strictly biblical but I love how the words are put together to describe the depth and complexity of the pain of child loss.

“Do not be irritated that I am like this,
O my God! this wound bled for so long!
The anguish in my heart is still the strongest thing,
and my heart is submissive, but not resigned.”

A Villequier

Now that Paris, its cobblestones and marble,
and its mists and its roofs are quite far from my eyes;
now that I am under tree branches,
and can daydream of the beauty of the skies;

Now that I am coming out, pale but victorious,
from the mourning that made my soul dark,
and I feel the peace of great Nature
entering my heart;

Now that, seated at the edge of the waves,
moved by this superb and tranquil horizon,
I can examine deep truths inside me
and look at the flowers that are on the lawn;

Now, O God! that I have the somber calm
to be able from now on
to look with my eyes on the stone where I know in the shadow
she is sleeping forever;

Now that, touched by these divine sights,
Plains, forests, rocks, little valleys, silvery river,
seeing my smallness and seeing your miracles,
I come back to my senses before their immensity;

I come to you, Lord, Father who must be believed in;
peaceful now, I bring you
the pieces of that heart all full of your glory
that you broke;

I come to you, Lord! confessing that you are
good, merciful, indulgent and kind, O living God!
I admit that you alone know what you do.
And that man is nothing but a reed that quivers in the wind;

I say that the tomb that closes upon the dead
opens the heavens;
and that what we here below take for the end
is the beginning;

I acknowledge on my knees that you alone, awesome father,
own the infinite, the real, the absolute;
I acknowledge that it is good, that it is right
that my heart has bled, since God willed it!

I resist no more whatever happens to me
by your will.
The soul from grief to grief, Man from shore to shore,
rolls to eternity.

We never see but a single side of things;
the other plunges into the night of frightening mystery.
Man bears the yoke without knowing why.
All he sees is short, useless and fleeting.

I know that fruit falls to the wind that shakes it,
that birds lose their feathers and flowers their fragrance,
that Creation is a great wheel
that cannot move without crushing someone;

months, days, billows of the sea, eyes that weep
pass under the blue sky;
grass must grow and children die;
I know it, O God!

In your heavens, above the sphere of the clouds,
deep in that still, sleeping blue,
perhaps you are making unknown things
where Man’s pain is an ingredient.

Perhaps it is useful in your numberless plans
that charming creatures
go away, carried off by the dark whirlwind
of black events.

Our shadowy destinies go underneath huge laws
which nothing disconcerts and nothing moves.
You cannot have sudden mercies
that would disturb the world, O God, calm spirit!

I beg you, O God! to look at my soul,
and to consider
that humbly as a child and gently as a woman,
I come to adore you!

Consider again how I have, since dawn,
worked, fought, thought, walked, struggled,
explaining Nature to Man who knew nothing of it,
lighting everything with your clarity;

that, facing hate and anger,
I have done my task here below,
that I could not expect this wage,
that I could not

foresee that you too, on my yielding head,
would let fall heavily your triumphant arm,
and that you who saw how little joy I have,
would take my child away so quickly!

How a soul thus struck is likely to wail,
how I could curse,
and cast my cries at you like a child
throwing stones in the sea!

Consider how one doubts, O God! when one suffers,
how the eye that weeps too much is blinded,
how a being plunged by grief into the blackest pit,
seeing you no more, cannot contemplate you.

And it cannot be that a Man, when he sinks
under affliction,
has in his wit the sober serenity
of the constellations!

Today, I who was weak as a mother,
I bend to your feet before your open skies.
I feel myself enlightened in my bitter sadness
by a better outlook on the universe.

Lord, I realize that Man is crazy
if he dares complain;
I’ve stopped accusing, I’ve stopped cursing,
but let me weep!

Alas! let the tears run down from my eyes,
since you have made Men for this!
Let me lean over this cold stone
and say to my child: Do you feel that I am here?

Let me speak to her, bent over her remains,
in the evening when all is still,
as if, reopening her celestial eyes in her night,
this angel could hear me!

Alas! turning an envious eye on the past,
while nothing here below can console me,
I keep seeing that moment in my life
when I saw her open her wings and fly off!

I will see that instant until I die,
the instant, no tears needed!
where I cried: the child I had a minute ago—
What? I don’t have her any more?

Do not be irritated that I am like this,
O my God! this wound bled for so long!
The anguish in my heart is still the strongest thing,
and my heart is submissive, but not resigned.

Do not be angry! Brows claimed by sorrow,
mortals subject to tears,
for us it is not easy to withdraw our souls
from these great griefs.

You see, we really need our children,
Lord; when one has seen in one’s life, some morning,
in the midst of cares, hardships, miseries,
and of the shadow our fate casts over us,

how a child appears, a dear sacred head,
a small joyful creature,
so beautiful one thinks a door to heaven has opened
when it arrives;

when for sixteen years one has watched this other self
grow in loveable grace and sweet reason,
when one has realized that this child one loves
makes daylight in our soul and in our home,

that it is the only joy that remains here below
of all that one has dreamed of;
consider that it is a very sad thing
to watch it going away!

–Victor Hugo (1802-1885)

[Written at Villequier, on the Seine, 4 September 1847, where Hugo’s 19-year-old daughter was buried near where she drowned in the Seine, four years earlier]

The death of his oldest and favourite daughter, Léopoldine, made Hugo very sad. She died at the age of 19, in 1843. This was only shortly after her marriage. She drowned in the Seine at Villequier. Her heavy skirts pulled her down, when a boat overturned. Her husband died as he tried to save her. At the time; Victor Hugo was travelling in the south of France. He learned about Léopoldine’s death from a newspaper when he was sitting in a café. He describes his shock and grief in his poem À Villequier: After this, he wrote many poems about his daughter’s life and death. One of his most famous poem is probably Demain, dès l’aube. In this poem, he describes visiting her grave.

À Villequier in its entirety can be found here.

2 replies »

  1. Difficult words to read, because of the pain he experienced. One never gets over the loss of a child. I believe there is a reason for all things however and your writing is an encouragement to many who have experienced the same loss. Thank you for sharing your heart.

    Liked by 1 person

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