Victor Marie Hugo was born on February 26, 1802 and is one of the greatest French writers. When you mention the name of Victor Hugo, most people immediately think of “Les Miserables,” considered to be one of the best novels of the 19th century. It is a sweeping work set during the
French revolution, dealing with love, the endurance of the human spirit, and redemption. Even if they have not read the book, they may have seen one the many movie versions of the novel, or perhaps the musical that first came out in 1985. Some may know another of his novels, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” but Hugo also wrote passionate poems about nature, social issues, and the indomitable human spirit. He was captivated by the French poet, Rene de Chateaubriand, perhaps the most prominent writer of the early 1800s, and founder of the Romantic Movement. Hugo famously declared that he would be “Chateaubriand or nothing,” setting a hugely high literary bar for himself. There is no doubt that he eventually reached those heights himself, I would even say he surpassed his idol. At the age of twenty two he published his first collection of poems which were extremely well received by the public, and caught the attention of King Louis XVIII.
There is one poem of Victor Hugo that has always moved and delighted me. It is a beautiful celebration of love, in all its different forms. Since we have just had Valentine’s Day and we are a week away from his birthday, I thought it would be appropriate to share the poem with you.
I wish you
I wish you first that you may love,
And that as you love, you'll also be loved.
And if it's not that way, you'll be brief to forget
And after you forget, you don't bear any grudges.
I wish then, that it won't be like that, but if it is,
You'll know how to be, without despair.
I also wish you to have friends,
And that, even bad and inconsistent,
They should be brave and loyal, and, that at least
There's one of them whom you can trust without a doubt.
And because life is like it is,
I also wish you to have enemies.
Not too many nor too few, in the exact amount,
So that sometimes, you'll question your
Own certainties. And that among them,
There's one who's just and fair, so that you won't feel too sure.
I wish you also that you're useful,
But not indispensable.
And that at bad times,
When there's nothing else left,
That sense of usefulness will be enough
To keep you on your feet.
As well, I wish you to be tolerant,
Not with the ones that make few mistakes,
Because that's easy, but with the ones that make
A lot of mistakes, and inevitably do so,
And that by making good use of that tolerance,
You'll be an example to others.
I wish you that being young you don't mature too fast,
And that once grown up, you don't insist on returning to youth,
And that being old you don't dedicate yourself to despair.
Because every age has its pleasure
And its pain, and it's necessary to let them flow among us.
By the way, I wish you to be sad.
Not the entire year, but a day.
But that in that day you'll figure out that
Daily laughter is good, usual laughter is lame,
And constant laughter is unhealthy.
I wish you to find out
With maximum urgency, above everything
And despite all, that there exist
And surround you, oppressed beings
Treated unjustly, and unhappy persons.
I wish you to pet a dog (or a cat)
Feed a bird, and hear a goldfinch
Raise triumphantly its early song,
Because this way, you'll feel good about nothing.
I wish you also to plant a seed,
Even if it's a tiny one, and that
You may accompany it in its growth,
So that you discover
Of how many lives is made a tree.
I wish you also to have money,
Because it's necessary to be practical,
And that even once a year
You place some of that money in front of you
And you say "this is mine," just to make clear
Who owns who.
I wish you that none of your dear ones die,
But if someone dies, may you cry without regrets
And suffer without feeling guilty.
Finally I wish for you that, being a man,
You'll have a good woman, and that being a woman,
You'll have a good man, tomorrow and the day after, and that
When you're exhausted and smiling,
You'll talk about love to start over.
If all of these things come to be,
Then I have nothing else to wish you.
Can there be anything worth wishing for beyond what has been enumerated in Hugo? I cannot think of anything else.