The Victor Hugo Centre celebrates World Poetry Day

Thursday 21st March was World Poetry Day, and the Victor Hugo Centre celebrated the day with an evening of poetry at the Writer’s Block bookshop in the Commercial Arcade. Hosted by Kelvin Whelan, the owner of the bookshop, we heard twenty-one poems read by 11 readers including Lieutenant Governor Richard Cripwell and three students from Ladies’ College.

Larry Malcic, chair of the Centre, introduced the evening, and said this about the event: ‘The Victor Hugo Centre will be a place for performance and creativity. This poetry evening is a showcase for both of those things, the sort of event that the Centre will cater for on a regular basis.’

Tony Gallienne, a director of the Centre, who compèred the evening said: ‘As well as a novelist, dramatist and social campaigner, Victor Hugo was a great poet, with the success of his collection Les Contemplations allowing him to buy Hauteville House. This evening, we had a selection of 21 poems from 11 readers. Locally Hugo’s poetry is little known, and this was an opportunity to start to remedy that situation.’

As well as the Lieutenant Governor, and Ladies’ College students, Pippa Smith, Issy Rhodes and Amelia Fooks, we also heard readings from Felicity Quevatre-Malcic, Susie Gallienne, Dinah Bott, Trudie Shannon, Steve Milnar, Louise Le Pelley and Isabelle Naginski.

Nine of the poems were by Victor Hugo, read in both French and English. The evening started with Felicity reading Victor Hugo’s most famous poem, and the one that is regularly voted France’s favourite, Demain dès L’Aube  (Tomorrow, at first dawn), which Hugo wrote for his daughter Léopoldine, who had died in a drowning accident. The work is full of beautiful nature imagery and melancholy, so typical of French poems.

Demain, dès l’aube 

Demain, dès l’aube, à l’heure où blanchit la campagne,
Je partirai. Vois-tu, je sais que tu m’attends.
J’irai par la forêt, j’irai par la montagne.
Je ne puis demeurer loin de toi plus longtemps

Je marcherai les yeux fixés sur mes pensées,
Sans rien voir au dehors, sans entendre aucun bruit,
Seul, inconnu, le dos courbé, les mains croisées,
Triste, et le jour pour moi sera comme la nuit.

Je ne regarderai ni l’or du soir qui tombe,
Ni les voiles au loin descendant vers Harfleur,
Et quand j’arriverai, je mettrai sur ta tombe
Un bouquet de houx vert et de bruyère en fleur.

Tomorrow, at first dawn 

Tomorrow, at first dawn, when the country starts to whiten,
I will set out. You see, I know you’re waiting for me.
I will go by forest, I will go by mountain,
Away from you I can no longer remain.

I will walk with eyes fixed onto my thoughts,
Without seeing outside, nor hearing any noise,
Alone, unknown, my back bent, my hands crossed,
Forlorn, and the day for me will be night.

I will watch neither the gold of the falling evening,
Nor the sails in the distance descending on Harfleur,
And when I get there, I will put on your grave
A bunch of green holly and blooming heather.

Other French poets read were Charles Baudelaire, Maurice Caréme and Alphonse de Lamartine. We also heard poetry by James Elroy Flecker, e.e.cummings and Michael Burns. Trudie Shannon read her own poems about Victor Hugo and Hauteville House, and Pippa Smith, Issy Rhodes and Amelia Fooks created their poems specifically for the evening, inspired by Victor Hugo.