Satan and His Daughter, the Angel Liberty
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Satan and His Daughter, the Angel Liberty

Selected Verses

Victor Hugo, Odilon Redon, R. G. Skinner

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eBook - ePub

Satan and His Daughter, the Angel Liberty

Selected Verses

Victor Hugo, Odilon Redon, R. G. Skinner

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About This Book

Victor Hugo spent years in political exile off the coast of Normandy. While there, he produced his masterpiece, Les Misérables —but that wasn't all: he also wrote a book-length poem, La Fin de Satan, left unfinished and not published until after his death. Satan and his Daughter, the Angel Liberty, drawn from this larger poem, tells the story of Satan and his daughter, the angel created by God from a feather left behind following his banishment. Hugo details Satan's fall, and through a despairing soliloquy, reveals him intent on revenge, yet desiring God's forgiveness. The angel Liberty, meanwhile, is presented by Hugo as the embodiment of good, working to convince her father to return to Heaven.This new translation by Richard Skinner presents Hugo's verse in a unique prose approach to the poet's poignant work, and is accompanied by the Symbolist artist Odilon Redon's haunting illustrations. No adventurous reader will want to miss this beautiful mingling of the epic and familial, religious and political.

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Beyond the Earth

Image: “. . .like a wedge, his head opened the abyss.”

Beyond the Earth I

FOR FOUR THOUSAND YEARS HE WAS FALLING INTO THE abyss. He had not yet been able to seize an outcropping, nor once raise his massive brow. He plunged into the darkness and mist, frightened, alone; and behind him, in the eternal nights, fell more slowly the feathers of his wings. He plummeted, thunderstruck, full of gloom, silent, and mournful, his mouth open and his feet pointed toward the Heavens, the horror of the gulf imprinted on his livid face. He cried:—Death!—his fists outstretched toward the empty darkness. This word later became ‘Man’ and was named ‘Cain.’
He was falling. Suddenly a rock struck his hand; he held to it, as a dead man embraces his tomb, and stopped. Someone, from on high, cried out to him:—Fall! The suns will die out around you, accursed one.— and the voice was lost in the immense horror. And, turning pale, he looked toward the eternal dawn. The suns were distant, but shone still. Satan lifted his head and said, raising his arms:—Liar!—This word later became the soul of Judas. Like bronze gods upright upon their pilasters, he waited a thousand years, his eyes fixed upon the stars.
The suns were distant, but were shining as ever. A thunderbolt then roared in the cold and voiceless heavens. Satan laughed, and spat at the thunder. The cosmos, filled by the visionary darkness, shuddered. This spittle later became Barabbas. Then, a passing wind made him fall further.
The fall of the damned one began once again—terrifying, overcast, and pierced with luminous holes like a sieve, the sky full of suns vanished, the light trembled, and into the night this giant plummeted headlong, naked, sinister, and dragged down by the weight of his crime; and like a wedge, his head opened the abyss. Lower! Lower! Ever lower! All, at his approach, fled him; no obstacle could he seize in passing, neither a mountain, nor a crumbling rock, nor a stone—nothing but gloom. Terrified, he closed his eyes. When he reopened them, only three suns shone, and the darkness had eroded the firmament. All the other suns were dead.
A rock immerged from the black fog, like an arm drawing near. He took hold, and alighted on the mountain peaks. Then the dreadful Being, who is called Never, began to think, lowering his brow to his criminal hands. Like three eyes, the three suns watched him from afar; but he did not return their gaze. Space resembled the plains on earth in the evening, when the horizon that sinks and recedes darkens beneath the white eyes of the spectral twilight. Long beams crawled to the feet of this great exile. Behind him, his shadow filled the infinite. The summits of chaos merged.
Image: “Suddenly he found himself sprouting horrible wings;. . .”
Suddenly he found himself sprouting horrible wings; he saw himself becoming a monster, the angel in him dying, as the rebel in him felt growing trepidation. He let his shoulder, once luminous, tremble with the hideous cold of the membranous wing, and, crossing his arms, raising his head, this outlaw, as if growing taller in the face of this insult, alone in these depths congested by his ruin, looked fixedly at the cavern of night. The blackness began to slowly spread in this nothingness. The opaque shadow closed the gaping sky; and, beyond the last headland, the three suns merged their radiances, making a threefold fissure in this dark window. It appeared to be the three wheels of a chariot of fire shattered after some battle in the high firmaments. And the mountains emerged from the fog like the prows of ships.
Very well—shouted Satan—so be it! I can still see! He shall have the blue sky, and I, myself, the black. Does he believe I shall go weeping to his gate? I despise him. Three suns, that is enough. What does it matter to me! I hate the day, the azure, the sunlight, the perfume!
Suddenly he gave a start, for now there remained but one sun.
The abyss was becoming obliterated. There were no more forms. The obscurity seemed to expand in an enormous wave, creating a vague feeling of being submerged. It became that which is no longer, that which disappears, becomes hidden; and one could not have said, in this deep horror, whether this was the frightening vestige of a mystery or of a world, like a hazy fog where the dream flees, or whether it called itself Shipwreck or Night; and the archangel felt that he was becoming a phantom. He said:—Hell!—This word later created Sodom. And the voice from above slowly repeated:—Accursed one! Around you the suns shall die out.
And already the sun was nothing but a star.
And everything was slowly disappearing beneath a veil. The archangel became faint-hearted; Satan shuddered. He sprang towards the star that flickered, pale, on the horizon, leaping from one peak to another. Then, though he detested these bestial wings, which were for him the dress of prison, just as a bird flies from bush to bush, so this wretched convict took wing from mountain to mountain, and began to hasten towards this punition.
He ran, he flew, he cried out:—Golden star! Brother! Wait for me! I am coming! Do not die out yet! Do not leave me alone!—Thus did the monster clear the first lakes of this dead vastness, this ancient, empty chaos, already stagnating, and plunge into the dismal depths.
The star was now but a spark. He entered further into the all-embracing darkness, was thrust, thrown, hurled into the night, scaled the miry mountain whose moist crest glistened, and whose base swayed in the depths of cesspools, and, mournful, looked before him. The spark was no more than a red speck at the bottom of the dark gulf.
Just as twilight overtakes the archer in his turret, stooped over the wall between two battlements, so does Satan lean over from the height of the mountain, and begin to savagely blow upon the star, as on embers, hoping to make it gleam, his fierce nostrils flaring with the agonized effort. The breath which came from his lungs dwells on Earth today and is called ‘Hurricane.’ At this gust of wind, a great uproar disturbed the darkness, that ocean which no Being inhabits and which no fire illuminates; the nearby mountains fled, and monstrous, fearful Chaos rose up and began to howl:—Jehovah! Jehovah!—The infinite half-opened, rent like a fabric, but nothing stirred in the mournful star; and the accursed one, crying:—Do not go out! I am coming! I shall arrive!—resumed his desperate flight.
Image: “Just as twilight overtakes the archer in his turret,. . .”
And the glaciers, mingling with the nights that resemble them, turned belly-up like cowed beasts, and the dark whirlwinds and the hideous chasms recoiled in terror, whilst above them, flying towards the star as an arrow towards its target, passed, rageful and gaunt, this terrible supplicant.
And ever since it saw this ghastly flight, this bitter, unfathomable gulf, frightened like a fleeing man, keeps forever an air of horror and madness, so dreadful was it to see fly, in the immense darkness, opening its hideous wings far from the heavens, this bat of the eternal dungeon!
He flew for ten thousand years. For ten thousand years, straining his ghastly neck and his frenzied hands, he flew without finding a height on which to rest. At times the star appeared to die out and be eclipsed, and the horror of the tomb would make the angel shudder; then a pale, dark light would reappear, vague and obscure, and, joyous, he would say:—I must hurry!—Around him soared the birds of the north wind. With hardly a pause, the infinite one renewed his efforts afresh. His flight into this sea described an immense circle. The night watched flee his horrible talons; and as a cloud feels its eddies subside, he felt his strength desert him in the abyss. Winter murmured:—Tremble!—and the blackness said:—Suffer!—Finally he saw, in the distance, a lurid summit casting a great light into the darkness. Satan, like a swimmer making a supreme effort, stretched his bare, taloned wings, and, pale ghost, breathless, broken, spent, and steaming with sweat, fell to the edge of the rugged scarp.
The sun that was dying in the abyss was there. Without a wind to revive it, the star in the depths of the mist slowly cooled and faded, becoming dull. Its sinister roundness was visible in the night; and in this ghastly silence, one could see its ulcers of fire decreasing beneath a leprosy of shadows. The coal of an extinct world, a torch blown out by God, its fissures still showed a little fire as if, through holes in the skull, one could see the soul. In the center flickered and crawled a flame which at times licked the outer edges, and from each crater issued forth some rays of light which trembled like flaming swords, and then soundlessly vanished, as do dreams. The star was nearly black. The archangel was so weary that he had neither voice nor breath, alas!
But the star was perishing beneath his fierce gaze. It was dying. It fought. At times, from the lightless orifices in this cold gloom it launched scorching floods, reddened masses, smoking mountains, and rocks all frothing with primeval light, as if this giant of life and light, absorbed by the mist where everything vanishes, did not wish to die without insulting the night, without spitting its lava in the face of the gloom. Around it time and space, number and form, and sound expired, creating a formidable, black nothingness. The barren void raised its head out of the pit. Suddenly, from the heart of the star, a fierce jet of sulfur, like the frantic outcry of the dying, shot out, startling, radiant, splendid, unexpected, enormous, revealing in the distance a thousand funereal forms, illuminating, in the far reaches of obscurity, the monstrous portals of the infinite deep. The spectacles, which night and vast space create, appeared. Satan, bewildered, breathless, his eye dazzled and full of this lightning, beat his wings, opened his hands, then trembled, and cried:—Despair! Everything is growing dim!—
Image: “. . .revealing in the distance a thousand funereal forms,. . .”
Image: “. . .the Sage whose face is lit by a reflection from the abyss.”
And the archangel understood that, like a sinking ship’s mast, he was drowning in a flood of darkness. He folded his wings with their talons of stone, wrung his hands, and the star died out.
Now, near the heavens, at the edge of the pit where nothing changes, a pure, white feather, which had escaped from the wings of the archangel, sat fluttering, precariou...

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