My arm pressed gently thy form (Mon bras pressait ta taille frêle):
Victor Hugo's Contemplations
When Les Contemplations – the anthology from which this manuscript page is the reproduction – was published in 1856, Victor Hugo was already a very well established French author.
Hugo wrote Notre-Dame de Paris in the time of only a few months (1831 – Editions des Saints Pères published the manuscript in 2016,) and when he was still in his twenties; he caused a scandal with Hernani in 1830, and was voted into l’Académie française in 1841.
Les Contemplations was a long term project. Its poems were most likely written over a period of twenty five years even though they were published while the author was in exile in Guernesey. Dedicated to his daughter Léopoldine – Hugo learned of her tragic death through the press while traveling with his mistress Juliette Drouet – the work is centered around ideas of memory and love.
Victor Hugo had always been a passionate man, driven by love. He married his childhood friend Adèle Foucher in 1822, then turned his attention to the young actress Juliette Drouet a decade later (Adèle herself engaged in an extramarital relationship with Sainte-Beuve, a family friend.) An author full of life and desire, a veritable ogre, and a literary and political genius whose humanist ideas have cemented his works into the canon of French literature, Victor Hugo left behind a rich collection of novels, plays, correspondance, and poetry.
Mon bras pressait ta taille frêle
Et souple comme le roseau ;
Ton sein palpitait comme l’aile
D’un jeune oiseau.
Longtemps muets, nous contemplâmes
Le ciel où s’éteignait le jour.
Que se passait-il dans nos âmes ?
Amour ! Amour !
Comme un ange qui se dévoile,
Tu me regardais dans ma nuit,
Avec ton beau regard d’étoile,
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