19th Century

Bridal Festivity (1832) | Victor Hugo

‘Bridal Festivity’ was written by Victor Hugo in August 1832 and published in his Chants des Crepuscules (1835). This short collection of poetry was then translated by George W.M. Reynolds and published as Songs of Twilight in 1836. The poem itself takes a somewhat dark turn towards the end, as readers will see. Perhaps this was an allegory on the dangers that awaited the French ruling classes (especially when it is remembered that poems about the recent 1830 Revolution also appeared in the Chants des Crepuscules). The poem has been transcribed by Stephen Basdeo.

Reynolds’s translation of the Songs of Twilight (1836)

The hall is gay with lamp and lustre bright—

The feast to ev’ry palate gives delight—

The hungry guests devour the sav’ry food, 

And eat profusely, for the cheer is good! 

And at that table—where the wise are few—

Both sexes and all ages meet the view;

The sturdy warrior with a thoughtful face—

The am’rous youth—the maid replete with grace—

The prattling infant—and the hoary hair 

Of second childhood’s proselytes—are there; 

And the most greedy, in that spacious hall, 

Are e’er the young, or oldest of them all! 

Helmet and banner—ornament and crest—

The Lion rampant—and the jewell’d vest— 

The silver star, that glitter’d fair and bright— 

The arms that told of many a nation’s might— 

Th’ heraldic blazonry—th’ancestral pride—

And all mankind could e’er invent beside—

The wingëd leopard—and the eagle wild— 

All these encircle woman, chief, and child, 

Shine on the carpet underneath their feet, 

Adorn the dishes that contain their meat, 

And hang upon the drap’ry, which around 

Falls from the lofty ceiling to the ground,

The chamber echoes to the din of them 

Who throng around—each with his diadem—

Each seated on his throne—each with a wand 

Or glittring sceptre in his feeble hand—

And on each foot—Oh! is the lesson vain?— 

Is fix’d by Fate a manacle and chain: 

Thus hope of flight were futile from that hall—

And the chief guest was more enslav’d than all!

Th’intoxicating draught that fires the soul—

All ardent Love who boasts of no controul, 

Form’d of the sexual breath (—an idle name 

Offspring of Fancy and a nervous frame—)

Pleasure, mad daughter of the darksome Night, 

Whose eye is languid with returning light—

The gallant huntsman, o’er the fences borne 

By stalworth charger, to the sounding horn—

The glittring silk—the bed of leaves of rose, 

Made more to please the sight than court repose; 

Where, when your mistress clasps you in her arms, 

No envious vest need hide her budding charms—

The mighty palaces that raise the sneer 

Of jealous mendicants and wretches near 

The spacious parks, from whence th’horizon blue, 

Beyond the verdant foliage, meets the view; 

Where Superstition still her walk will take, 

And where soft Music echoes o’er the Lake—

The transient modesty of maids undone—

The qualms of judges whom small brib’ry won—

The dread of children, trembling as they play— 

The bliss of monarchs potent in their sway—

The note of war—the deadly culverin, 

That shakes the fortress with unholy din— 

The serri’d legions rushing to the fight—

The city full of pleasure and delight—

And all that human kind can form or know 

To have existence on this earth below— 

With Gold—the prize for which ten thousands bait

A subtle hook, that ever, as they wait,

Catches a weed, and drags them to their fate:

Such were the dainties on that table spread,

Such were the meats whereby those guests were fed.

A hundred slaves around the chamber stood,

And serv’d each one with all he thought was good;

While day and night fell Destiny prepar’d

The sumptuous banquet thus so largely shar’d!

And that each guest might learn to suit his taste,

Beside his chair was Conscience ever plac’d;

For Conscience’ piercing eyes could well detect

The dainty morsel, and the bad reject,

Although that self-same Conscience oft be blind, 

When doom’d to stand a monarch’s throne behind. 

Oh! at that table there be all the great, 

The proud, the mighty—majesty and state: 

Dread Bacchanalian revel! yet how grand, 

Thus to allure the natives of each land! 

Yes—for long shouts of laughter echo round—

And mirth—and joy—and revelry abound; 

The bowl flows freely—and the wine is bright 

And ev’ry eyeball glistens with delight.

But ah! great God!—While yet your Hebes pour

Forth in the cups the liquors ye adore—

While yet, fair guests! the bowl is richly stor’d,

And while fresh dainties reek upon the board—

And while th’orchestra lifts unto the sky, 

To tuneful harps, the voice of melody

‘Tis now—O Madness!—reckless of the bliss 

That gleams around—in such an hour as this—

An awful footstep mounts the echoing stair— 

A horrid sound proclaims intruders there—

A heavy tramp, that bids all mirth be done 

Nearer—more near—who is the dreaded one? 

Close not the door!—With haste, and deep-drawn breath, 

The stranger enters—and that stranger’s Death! 

With him comes Exile, cloth’d in foreign guise, 

And both with fury flashing from their eyes.

Dread is that sight!—They enter in the hall, 

And cast a gloomy shade upon them all:

Each guest is stupified with inward fear, 

As death and exile seize their victims near, 

And bear them from the banquet, while their brain 

Seeks to dispel the fumes of wine in vain! 

August 1832.