Victor Hugo

The guide book tells us to walk to San Sebastian on the first day.  Our hospitalero advices us to break our journey in Pasajes de San Juan.  He lists his reasons.  it is your first day walking so dont  try for too much.  This way we would get to San Seb with time to enjoy its delights. Besides, and this seems the main reason, the busy port that looks like a small village is his home town.

It was good advice.  The village, a fishing port, clings to the sea with one main medieval street.  The rest of the town is across the water with a connecting ferry.   Lovely red rooves soak up the sun with the last of the evening sun that gradually sinks behind a hill of soft yellow sandstone.

Victor Hugo had a house here, now a lovingly run musem and entry is free.  Readings from the book of his travels about this trip   lilt out on a loop. Wrting on the wall tells of a child running in the sunny rooms.  Leopoldine, the one who drowned whose death curtailed his journey so decided to sell up and move away.

The name Leopoldine was like a key unlocking treasures of my past and a stash of memories from girlhood. And a poem, Quand nous habitions tous ensemble …When we  lived together…

I had learned the poem at school,  with a French nun, the Sacristan, Soeur Marie Odile, from the convent in Neuilly.  I remembered the strangeness of being in a part of the convent where the girls were not permitted and repeating word for word till I had the poem, accent perfected, under her tutelage.

It was for a competition,  Anglo French Verse Speaking, in which all the local schools took part. A grand title indeed.  I remember the moment I knew that I stood a good chance of winning – when the audience  fell quiet, and all restlessness ceased.  I stood before them, perhaps in my minds eye now, not a large 13 year old in school uniform, and knew.

The poem reproduced here from the internet not from failing memory.  In my memory there was the word, helas, Alas.  When the audience took a deep breath in, sensing something sad about to happen.

Quand nous habitions tous ensemble

Quand nous habitions tous ensemble
Sur nos collines d’autrefois,
Où l’eau court, où le buisson tremble,
Dans la maison qui touche aux bois,

Elle avait dix ans, et moi trente ;
J’étais pour elle l’univers.
Oh! comme l’herbe est odorante
Sous les arbres profonds et verts !

Elle faisait mon sort prospère,
Mon travail léger, mon ciel bleu.
Lorsqu’elle me disait: Mon père,
Tout mon coeur s’écriait : Mon Dieu !

À travers mes songes sans nombre,
J’écoutais son parler joyeux,
Et mon front s’éclairait dans l’ombre
À la lumière de ses yeux.

Elle avait l’air d’une princesse
Quand je la tenais par la main.
Elle cherchait des fleurs sans cesse
Et des pauvres dans le chemin.

Elle donnait comme on dérobe,
En se cachant aux yeux de tous.
Oh ! la belle petite robe
Qu’elle avait, vous rappelez-vous ?

Le soir, auprès de ma bougie,
Elle jasait à petit bruit,
Tandis qu’à la vitre rougie
Heurtaient les papillons de nuit.

Les anges se miraient en elle.
Que son bonjour était charmant !
Le ciel mettait dans sa prunelle
Ce regard qui jamais ne ment.

Oh! je l’avais, si jeune encore,
Vue apparître en mon destin !
C’était l’enfant de mon aurore,
Et mon étoile du matin !

Quand la lune claire et sereine
Brillait aux cieux, dans ces beaux mois,
Comme nous allions dans la plaine !
Comme nous courions dans les bois !

Puis, vers la lumière isolée
Étoilant le logis obscur,
Nous revenions par la vallée
En tournant le coin du vieux mur ;

Nous revenions, coeurs pleins de flamme,
En parlant des splendeurs du ciel.
Je composais cette jeune âme
Comme l’abeille fait son miel.

Doux ange aux candides pensées,
Elle était gaie en arrivant… –
Toutes ces choses sont passées
Conune l’ombre et comme le vent !

The translation is also cribbed from the internet.

When we lived all together
on our hills in the old days,
where the water flows, where the bush quivers,
in the house that touches the woods,

she was ten years old, I was thirty;
I was the universe to her.
Oh, how the grass smells sweet
under the deep green trees!

She made my fate prosperous,
my work light, my sky blue.
When she said to me: “My father,”
All my heart cried: “My God!”

Through my numberless daydreams
I listened to her happy talk,
and my face lit up in the darkness
at the light of her eyes.

She had the air of a princess
when I took her by the hand.
She was always looking for flowers
and for poor people in the road.

She gave the way people steal,
hiding from everyone’s eyes.
Oh! the pretty little dress
that she had, do you remember?


In the evening, near my candle,
she would chatter softly,
while at the reddened windowpane
the night butterflies knocked.

The angels saw each other in her.
How her “bonjour” was charming!
Heaven set into its eye
that glance that never lied.

Oh! I had seen her, still so young,
appear in my destiny!
She was the child of my dawn,
and my morning star!

When the moon, clear and serene,
shone in the skies, in those fine months,
how we used to walk on the plain,
how we used to run in the woods!

Then, towards the single light
starring out from the dark house,
we would come back by the valley
turning the corner of the old wall;

we would come back, hearts full of flame,
talking about the splendors of heaven.
I was composing this young soul
as the bee makes its honey.

Sweet angel of guileless thoughts,
she was joyful when she arrived…–
All these things are gone
like shadow and the wind!

Victor Hugo (1802-1885)



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