“Her Name, From the French of Victor Hugo,” translated by Henry William Herbert, accompanied with Hugo’s original verse, “Son Nom”

by Ann Neilson

Henry William Herbert was an accomplished sports writer, editor, and historian, as well as professor of Greek and Latin, and translator of Greek, Latin and French. In the Poems of “Frank Forester” (Henry William Herbert), a compendium of his original poetry is presented, as well as several of his translations. Below is one of Herbert’s many favored translations, a translation of Victor Hugo’s poem, “Son Nom.” For convenience’s sake, you may also find my transcription of Hugo’s original poem. 

HER NAME.
FROM THE FRENCH OF VICTOR HUGO.
Translated by Henry William Herbert
From Poems of “Frank Forester” (Henry William Herbert)

THE lily’s pure perfume, the brightest glow
Of golden glory on a martyr’s brow,
The evening’s latest sigh of bliss,
The grief of friendship, mourning, yet consoled,
Thy mystic farewell of each hour that’s tolled,
The ecstasy of true-love’s kiss.

The sevenfold scarf by tempests wrought on high,
Spanning with hues of light the cloudy sky,
Proud banner of the sunset gleam ;
The thrilling accents of a welcome voice,
The tenderest maiden’s fancy-treasured choice,
An infant’s earliest dream.

The distant warblings of some choral lay,
The whispered symphony which dawning day
Woke from the fabled Memnon’s frame,
The murmur of a harp-string born and dying,
The sweetest thoughts from minstrel’s genius flying,
Can boast no charms to match Her Name !

Soft should its sounds be heard as secret vow,
But still in every strain its notes should flow,
Pure as some hallowed taper’s rays
Kindling the darksome shrine with heavenly flame ;
Sweet as the prayer still new, yet still the same,
Forever breathed before the altar’s base !

Nor shall my muse, upborne on vagrant wing,
Presume that cherished sound aloud to sing
In tones that burn with living fire ;
Nor blend with names proclaimed by wanton pride
That treasured name, which still my soul must hide
Till love and life at once expire.

Unless these notes might catch the hallowed style
Of anthems, streaming down the vaulted aisle
To the repentant sinner’s ear ;
The air around with solemn voices thrilling,
As though, sweet music from his wings distilling,
Some viewless spirit hovered near.

SON NOM.
Victor Hugo
From Victor Hugo: eine chronologisch geordnete Auswahl seiner Gedichte…

Le parfum d’un lys pur, l’éclat d’une auréole,
La plainte d’un ami qui s’afflige et console,
L’adieu mystérieux de l’heure qui s’envole,
Le doux bruit d’un baiser d’amour,

L’écharpe aux sept couleurs que l’orage en la nue
Laisse, comme un trophée, au soleil triomphant,
L’accent inespéré d’une voix reconnue,
Le voeu le plus secret d’une vierge ingénue,
Le premier rêve d’un enfant,

Le chant d’un choeur lointain, le soupir qu’à l’aurore
Rendait le fabuleux Memnon,
Le murmure d’un son qui tremble et s’évapore …
Tout ce que la pensée a de plus doux encore,
O lyre! est moins doux que son nom!

Prononce-le tout bas, ainsi qu’une prière,
Mais que dans tous nos chants il résonne à la fois!
Qu’il soit du temple obscur la secrète lumière!
Qu’il soit le mot sacré qu’au fond du sanctuaire
Redit toujours la même voix!

O mes amis! avant qu’en paroles de flamme,
Ma muse, égarant son essor,
Ose aux noms profanés qu’un vain orgueil proclame,
Mèler ce chaste nom, que l’amour dans mon âme
A caché, comme un saint trésor,

Il faudra que le chant de mes hymnes fidéles
Soit comme un de ces chants qu’on écoute à genoux;
Et que l’air soit ému de leurs voix solennelles,
Comme si, seconant ses invisibles ailes,
Un auge passait près de nous!