Victor Hugo’s “Demain, dès l’aube”

June 18, 2010
By Rachel

Many instructors of French shy away from literary analysis in elementary and intermediate language classes. To be sure, discussion of literary theory can be difficult even in advanced courses. It can be daunting to aim to read texts and analyse them when even the basic verb tenses are still unclear. But it is important for the students’ continuing studies to be familiar with the basic language of literary analysis and to see the literary application of the grammar they are learning. Leave the theorists and complicated, opaque texts behind and there are plenty of texts to use at the introductory level.

Victor Hugo’s touching poem “Demain dès l’aube” is one such text. The three-stanza poem uses simple phrases and verbs (in the futur simple and the present) in an address to a beloved. The narrator will leave early tomorrow to see her. It seems to be a classic ode to romantic love until clues in the second half suggest a more somber voyage. The second-to-last line reveals that the narrator is in fact going to visit a tomb. {Hugo wrote the poem four years after losing his daughter Léopoldine and her husband in a drowning accident.}

The vocabulary is not difficult: the verbs should be familiar (voir, partir, aller, marcher, etc.) and the adjectives seul, triste, should convey meaning to students. I have used the poem in a unit on the futur simple. A quick introduction to rime and rhythm (noting that in French syllables are always consonant-vowel) can make it a useful oral exercise as well: you could even assign the memorization of one stanza.

I would encourage students to underline words that are key to describing the trip the narrator will take, and to note the change in tone as the poem progresses. Where does this change occur? What clues to we have that describe the object of his travels?

« Demain, dès l’aube… »

Demain, dès l’aube, à l’heure où blanchit la campagne,
Je partirai. Vois-tu, je sais que tu m’attends.
J’irai par la forêt, j’irai par la montagne.
Je ne puis demeurer loin de toi plus longtemps.

Je marcherai les yeux fixés sur mes pensées,
Sans rien voir au dehors, sans entendre aucun bruit,
Seul, inconnu, le dos courbé, les mains croisées,
Triste, et le jour pour moi sera comme la nuit.

Je ne regarderai ni l’or du soir qui tombe,
Ni les voiles au loin descendant vers Harfleur,
Et quand j’arriverai, je mettrai sur ta tombe
Un bouquet de houx vert et de bruyère en fleur.

You may find an image of the original manuscript on Wikipedia.

Many editions of Hugo’s works appear on Google Books, notably this one from 1906.

Update: Kate has added some amazingly useful links in the comments. Vive Voix, for one, is an anthology of poetry recordings. Here’s a link for Demain, dès l’aube. And don’t miss the bande dessinée version!

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3 Responses to “ Victor Hugo’s “Demain, dès l’aube” ”

  1. Kate on June 18, 2010 at 10:15 am

    Ce blog est génial ! Moi, j’adore enseigner avec la littérature et en particulier, la poésie. Quand j’enseignais au niveau secondaire (9-12), j’essayais toujours d’enseigner au moins un poème pendant chaque unité/chapitre. As-tu jamais visité le site ViveVoix de Wheaton College (http://wheatoncollege.edu/academic/academicdept/F…)? C’est une anthologie sonore de poésie française et c’est formidable. Quant à ce poème de Victor Hugo, j’ai aussi employé cette bande dessinée(http://www.lettres.net/hugo/demain/index.htm) quand je l’ai enseigné pour avoir un soutien visuel pour mes élèves aussi.

  2. Daniel Fuchs on February 14, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    Hello, dear Rachel
    We are a swiss pop group and big fans of Victor Hugo, especially of his “Demain, dès l’aube”. So we did a musical version of this legendary poem, with a short clip: in honor of Léopoldine Hugo an her father.
    We hope, that you like it.
    Greetings from Solothurn, small town in Switzerland,
    Série Noire
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MNtRZAyddE (or search: “Série Noire Léopoldine”)

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