At the heart of symbolism


Portrait of Victor Hugo, dry-point by Auguste Rodin (Victor Hugo Museum)
Victor Hugo Museum, 6 place des Vosges, 75004 Paris

Book 3: Conflicts and Dreams - Poem 27

Victor Hugo (1802-1885) very early endorsed the role of leader of the romantic writers. He took up writing in all sorts of styles: poetry, theater, novel or narratives. Propelled to the top, he reached a pinacle after the two major events in his life: the death of LĂ©opoldine (1843) and the political exile in Jersey, following the coup d'état of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (1851).

The deep impression left by the suffering and the banishment from his country have, without any doubt, influenced the later works and brought the genius of Victor Hugo to his crowning point. In particular the “Contemplations” (1856), an anthology of poems whose composition was stretched out over twenty years. In this work, the author managed to cover all types of topics: childhood, love, pain and the beyond.

After the tragic event of his life, Victor Hugo was not wrapped up in his sorrow. On the contrary, he opened up to the society of his time; he denounced the failings of it and magnified the creation in all its diversity. In the depths of pain lies, love. He felt sorry for the horse put under the yoke, the crab rigged out in ugliness and showed compassion for:

The spider and the nettle

  • I love the spider and the nettle,
  • Because they are hated;
  • And nothing grants but all scourge
  • Their gloomy wish;
  • Because they are cursed, weak,
  • Black crawling beings;
  • Because they are the sad prisoners
  • Of their snares;
  • Because they are slaves to their work;
  • O fate! fatal nodes!
  • Because the nettle is a grass snake,
  • The spider a beggar;
  • Because they possess the shadowy abysms,
  • Because they are shunned,
  • Because they are both victims
  • Of the dusky night.
  • Passers by, spare that lowly plant,
  • That wretched animal.
  • Pity their ugliness and their sting,
  • Oh! take pity on evil!
  • Nothing is without melancholy;
  • One and all desire to be kissed.
  • In their beastly repugnance, lest we forget
  • to swat them,
  • As soon as we take scant notice of them,
  • Deep down, distant from daylight,
  • The unsightly animal and the weed
  • Murmur: Love!