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10 Most Famous Poems by Victor Hugo You Should Know

Looking for some of the most famous poems by Victor Hugo? Then you’re in the right place as we’ll look at 10 of his best works.

France is home to many great literary personalities and one of them is Victor Hugo! A French poet, novelist, writer, and dramatist from the Romanticism era who eventually became a senator.

He is widely regarded as one of the most important figures in French literature, with his works leaving a lasting impact on the world of prose and poetry.

Victor Hugo is one of the most famous French people.

Bibliothèque nationale de France, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

He wrote internationally-acclaimed novels such as “Les Misérables” and “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame,” as well as countless other poems and plays.

His poetry is a beautiful and powerful exploration of varied themes like love, loss, redemption, war, and the beauty of nature.

If you’re a fan of his work or just want to see some of his most famous poems, then I’ve got you covered in this post.

I’ll be sharing 10 of the most famous poems by Victor Hugo that you should read/know about. And as you delve deeper into his works, you will realize how they continue to resonate with the world today.

10 Most Famous Poems by Victor Hugo

full statue of Victor Hugo
Statue of Victor Hugo

Through his poetry, Hugo expressed the most profound yet humane emotions, like the joys of love, the pain of loss, the beauty of nature, and the harsh realities of life. What made them relatable was that he wrote from his own experiences.

From the haunting Demain, dès l’aube to the epic L’Année Terrible, each poem offers a unique glimpse into the creative genius of one of France’s renowned literary figures and his insight into topics around him.

So without any further ado, here are the most famous poems by Victor Hugo!

1. Demain, dès l’aube (Tomorrow at Dawn) (1856)

One of Victor Hugo’s most famous poems, Demain, dès l’aube, was published in his Les Contemplations collection in 1856.

The widely anthologized poem is a heartfelt reflection on grief and loss, which was inspired by the death of his daughter Léopoldine, who drowned in the Seine River along with her husband when she was only 19 years old.

In the poem, Hugo describes a journey he plans to take to visit his daughter’s grave “tomorrow, at dawn.” He muses on the quiet beauty of the morning and the solemnity of his mission while also reflecting on the inevitability of death. 

Demain, dès l’aube is a beautifully written and deeply moving poem that captures the intensity of grief and the power of love to transcend death.

To date, it is still of the most famous French poems of all time!

You can read the complete Poem here!

2. L’Expiation (The Expiation) (1853)

L’Expiation, published in 1853, is a long narrative poem by Victor Hugo that recounts the defeat of Napoleon I in various wars.

It starts with the retreat of Napoleon’s army following their unsuccessful invasion of Russia in 1812.

Attacking Russia during winter was a bad idea on its own. Plus, the Russians had a strategy, meaning Napoleon had no chance of winning.

The Russians kept receding as Napoleon’s army advanced, moving the latter away from their supplies.

When the French army finally arrived at Moscow, they realized it was abandoned, devoid of reserves.

By the time the French army retreated, several soldiers had lost their lives, food and clothing were scarce, and winter was harsh.

But the poem doesn’t stop at Napoleon’s defeat in Russia! It’s segmented into more parts which recount his defeat at Waterloo in 1815 in Belgium, his second exile to Saint Helena, and later his death in 1821 and his memory.

You can read the complete Poem here!

Related Post: Famous French Philosophers

3. La Tombe dit à la Rose (The Grave Said to the Rose) (1837)

Among the philosophical poems by Victor Hugo, La tombe dit à la Rose is one of the more poignant ones.

In this beautiful poem, Hugo personifies a rose and a grave while imagining a conversation between the two.

One represents life, beauty, and love (rose), whereas the other represents death and finality (grave).

In the first stanza, both the subjects ask each other a question, and in the second stanza, they provide their respective answers.

This short poem explores the themes of love and mortality and shows the contrast between the two inanimate objects.

You can read the complete Poem here!

4. Soleils couchants (Setting Suns) (1831)

The second of Victor Hugo’s famous poems about the contrast between life and death is Soleils Couchants.

It is a set of six poems written individually and then grouped together in his 1831 collection of Les Feuilles d’automne.

The short and poignant poems highlight the transience of life, as symbolized by the setting sun.

In the poem, Hugo describes the beauty of the sunsets he has witnessed at Vanves and Montrouge and reflects on the passing of time and the inevitability of death.

He narrates how the passage of time has a positive effect on Nature, i.e., it renews life and provides vitality while, for humanity, it has a negative impact bringing aging and death.

You can read the complete Poem here!

Related Post: Famous Poems About France

5. Les Djinns (The Djinn) (1829)

Next on this list of Victor Hugo poems is Les Djinns, published in his collection Les Orientales (1829).

The poem was inspired by Middle Eastern mythology and folklore and tells the story of a group of djinns who descend upon a deserted city and wreak havoc.

The innovative structure of the poem has each verse composed of quatrains, further split into two half-lines, and with varying syllables.

Hugo uses a wide variety of onomatopoeic words, like words that imitate the sounds they describe, to create a sense of chaos and confusion as the djinns move through the city.

You can read the complete Poem here!

6. Plein ciel (Full Sky) (1859)

Almost all of Victor Hugo’s poems had underlying themes, and Plein Ciel explores the concepts of the vastness of the universe, man’s conquests, and eventual fatality.

When everyone was focused on airships, which at the time was a balloon propelled by a steam engine, Hugo put his thoughts to paper regarding the subject.

The lengthy poem is divided into three sections, each exploring a different theme. The first speaks of the vastness of the universe and how the airship navigates through the sky.

The second speaks of man’s inventions and progress with science. While the last describes the airship as evil and ultimately speaks of humanity’s doom.

You can read the complete Poem here!

Related Post: Best French Love Poems

7. La Conscience (Conscience) (1859)

La Conscience describes the perspective of Cain, a biblical figure who killed his brother Abel out of jealousy.

Cain is tormented by his conscience, which reminds him of his terrible deed and drives him to despair.

He tries to hide from the “eye of God,” a probable metaphor for his conscience, but he realizes that he cannot escape the consequences of his actions.

The poem is a powerful exploration of guilt, remorse, and the power of conscience.

Cain is portrayed as a tragic figure unable to escape the weight of his conscience, suggesting that our actions have consequences that we cannot escape.

You can read the complete Poem here!

8. Après la bataille (After the Battle) (1859)

One of the more famous poems by Victor Hugo that is based on war is Après la Bataille, a part of the first series in the La Légende des siècles collection.

In the poem, Hugo writes in honor of his father, General Joseph Léopold Sigisbert Hugo, who served in Napoleon’s army.

The battle spoken about is the Peninsular War, where the French fought against the Spanish, Portuguese, and British troops.

Hugo describes his father’s compassion towards a man from the opposing side. After the war, his father hears a man asking for help, and even though the men are on opposing sides, he offers a drink to the latter.

The ungrateful man still tries to take revenge, but Hugo’s father extends sympathy till the end.

You can read the complete Poem here!

Related Post: Best Writers From France

9. A ma fille (To my daughter)

Like Demain, dès l’aube, another poem that Victor Hugo dedicated to his daughter Léopoldine was A ma fille.

The poem is written as a letter to her, expressing Hugo’s profound grief and sense of loss while being philosophical.

In it, Hugo describes how life is and how we should approach it. It is written as if he’s teaching his daughter how to navigate life. 

A ma fille is a deeply emotional and personal poem reflecting Hugo’s love for his daughter and his pragmatism at the same time.

He reflects on the fragility of life, the inevitability of death, and the idea that his daughter lives on in the afterlife.

You can read the complete Poem here!

10. L’Année terrible (The terrible year) (1872)

Published in 1872, L’Année Terrible reflects on multiple issues in the preceding years, one of which was Hugo losing his son, Charles.

The poem has three parts, each exploring different themes. The first section focuses on the war between France and Prussia, which resulted in France’s defeat and the capture of Napoleon III.

The poem describes the violence and destruction of the war, as well as the suffering of the French people.

The second focuses on the Paris Commune, a socialist government that briefly took control of Paris in 1871 before being brutally suppressed by the French army.

The third and final part reflects on the aftermath of the conflicts and the need for healing and reconciliation.

You can read the complete Poem here!

Final Thoughts on the Famous Victor Hugo Poems

Whether you are a student of literature or simply a lover of poetry, I encourage you to take some time to explore some of the other works of Hugo and discover the beauty of his words for yourself.

If you have, let me know which ones moved you. In the meantime, as you reflect on these famous poems by Victor Hugo, I hope they were insightful and maybe inspired you to explore more of his works.

Perhaps you will even be moved to pick up a pen and try your hand at writing poetry.

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