Victor Hugo’s To the Trees, a translation by Timothy Adès



You forest trees, how well you know my mind!
The envious crowd is raucous and unkind;
You know my soul! You’ve seen me as I’ve gone
Gazing and musing in your depths alone:
You know the outcrop that the beetle scours,
The humble raindrop falling through the flowers,
A bird, a cloud: all day I cannot move,
As contemplation fills my heart with love.
Often you’ve seen me, in the shady glen,
Find words to put to nature from the brain,
Quietly questioning your trembling boughs;
Then, equable, and simultaneous,
Pensive, head down, eyes on the leaves of grass,
I quiz the atom and the universe.
Trees, in your sounds I hear your every word:
Through you, I flee from man and seek the Lord!
You leaves that quiver at a branch’s end,
Nests whose white feathers journey on the wind,
Clearings, green vales, wild places, bane or balm,
You know that, just like you, I’m pure and calm.
My prayers climb to heaven like your fragrance;
My skill is to forget, as yours is silence!
In vain upon me hatred’s bile is poured;
Hear this, you woods belovéd of the Lord!
All bitter thoughts are banished and must fade:
My heart is still the heart my mother made!

I love the trees that shudder in the groves,
And ivy too, mute climber on mute boughs;
Ravines where living springs are heard to spill,
Shrubs the birds plunder, feasting with a will!
Surrounded in your forests, mighty trees,
Safely concealed, I know this truth, at ease
Within myself, and all alone with you:
That a great being hears and loves me too!
Forest, I’ll seek your shade and mystery,
Under your solemn lonely canopy,
And hide my grave in calm obscurity:
For when I sleep, it’s there I wish to be.

Original title: Aux arbres, Les Contemplations, 1856
Translation by Timothy Adès

Photo: Rinuccia Marabotto