Victor Hugotrans. Timothy Adès

The twentieth-century French critic, Andre Bellesort, said: 'If Hugo had written no more than the eighty lines of Waterloo, he would still be our
greatest, our only epic poet.' 'L'Expiation' is a classic of French literature. The 1848 revolution had given France universal male suffrage. Hugo
with great courage reimposed order at the barricades. He strongly advocated the election of Louis-Napoleon as President. No one was more
infuriated when the coup of 1851 established the Second Empire. Exile in Jersey and Guernsey followed. The three historic disasters are presented
as the great Napoleon's punishments for his own seizure of power; but for the final punishment, not included here, Hugo has him awakening years
later in his gilded tomb, sweating to see the horrible courtiers and villainous henchmen.

Le plus haut attentat que puisse faire un homme,
C'est de lier la France ou de garrotter Rome;
C'est, quel que soit le lieu, le pays, la cité,
D'ôter l'âme â chacun, à tous la liberté.
Dans la curie auguste entrer avec l'épée,
Assassiner la loi dans son temple frappée,
Mettre aux fers tout un peuple, est un crime odieux
Que Dieu, calme et rêveur, ne quitte pas des yeux.
Dès que ce grand forfait est commis, point de grâce;
La Peine au fond des cieux, lente, mais jamais lasse,
Se met en marche, et vient; son regard est serein.
Elle tient sous son bras son fouet aux clous d'airain.
The highest crime this mortal world affords
Is to bind France, or strangle Rome with cords,
In any city, any land, to steal
From each his soul, their liberty from all.
To press into the court august, to draw
Sword in the temple, and strike dead the law:
A people fettered. from a crime so base
God of the tranquil dream turns not his face.
The deed once done, no mercy! From azure
Fastnesses, Retribution, slow but sure,
Moves on her course. She comes, her visage calm,
Her lash of brazen spikes beneath her arm.

Winner of first prize in the John Dryden Translation Competition 2003

Trans. copyright © Timothy Adès 2003

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