‘Lines Written on a Ball at the Hotel-de-Ville‘ was written by Victor Hugo in 1833 and published in Les Chants du Crepuscule (1835). It was then translated by George W.M. Reynolds and published in Songs of Twilight (1836). Songs of Twilight has recently been re-released as a modern edition, transcribed by Stephen Basdeo.
‘Tis thus the civil halls are gay and bright,
And the vast building shows one glare of light;
The noise of mirth and revelry resounds,
Like fairy’s melody on haunted grounds.
But France demands not all that mirth and glee,
Those shouts prolong’d, and that festivity:
Paris, strange city form’d of woe and bliss,
In such an hour requires not scenes like this.
Deaf is the ear of all that glittring crowd
To sorrow’s voice, although its call be loud.
Better, than waste long hours in idle show,
To help the indigent, and raise the low—
To teach the wicked to forsake his way,
And find th’industrious work from day to day!
Better to charity those hours afford,
Which oft are wasted at the festal board!
And, ye—O high-born beauties! in whose soul
Virtue resides, and Vice has no controul;
Ye, whom Prosperity forbade to sin,
So fair without—so chaste, so pure within—
Whose honour Want ne’er offer’d to betray,
Whose eyes are joyous, and whose heart is gay;
Around whose modesty a hundred arms,
Aided by Pride, protect a thousand charms;
For you this ball is pregnant with delight,
As glittring planets cheer the gloomy night:
But, oh! ye wist not, while your souls are glad,
How millions wander houseless, sick, and sad:
Hazard has plac’d you in a happy sphere,
And like your own all other lots appear;
For blinded by the sun of bliss, your eyes
Can see no dark horizon to the skies.
Such is the chance of life! Each gallant thane,
Each prince, each noble, follow in your train:
They praise your loveliness, and in your ear
They whisper pleasing things. but insincere:
Thus, as the moth enamour’d of the light,
Ye seek those scenes of revelry each night.—
But as ye hasten thither, did ye know
What wretches throng the streets through which you go—
Females, whose vesture glitters in the glare
Of feeble lamps, stand all expectant there,
Watching the passing crowd with eager eye,
Till one their love, their lust, or shame may buy;
Or with commingling jealousy and rage,
They mark the progress of your equipage;
And their deceitful lip essays awhile
To hide their woe beneath a sickly smile!