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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Cities of the Plain

By Victor Hugo (1802–1885)

From ‘Les Orientales’: Translation of J. N. Fazakerley

TWO cities, strange, unknown in history’s page,

Up to the clouds seemed scaling, stage by stage.

Noiseless their streets; their sleeping inmates lie,

Their gods, their chariots, in obscurity!

Like sisters sleeping ’neath the same moonlight,

O’er their twin towers crept the shades of night,

Whilst, scarce distinguished in the black profound,

Stairs, aqueducts, great pillars gleamed around,

And ruined capitals; then was seen a group

Of granite elephants ’neath a dome to stoop,

Shapeless, giant forms to view arise,

Monsters around, the spawn of hideous ties!

Then hanging gardens, with flowers and galleries;

O’er vast fountains bending grew ebon trees;

Temples, where, seated on their rich tiled thrones,

Bull-headed idols shone in jasper stones;

Vast halls, spanned by one block, where watch and stare

Each upon each, with straight and moveless glare,

Colossal heads in circles; the eye sees

Great gods of bronze, their hands upon their knees.

Sight seemed confounded, and to have lost its powers,

’Midst bridges, aqueducts, arches, and round towers,

Whilst unknown shapes fill up the devious views

Formed by these palaces and avenues.

Like capes the lengthening shadows seem to rise

Of these dark buildings, pointed to the skies,

Immense entanglement in shroud of gloom!

The stars which gleamed in the empyrean dome,

Under the thousand arches in heaven’s space,

Shone as through meshes of the blackest lace.

Cities of hell, with foul desires demented,

And monstrous pleasures, hour by hour invented!

Each roof and home some monstrous mystery bore,

Which through the world spread like a twofold sore!

Yet all things slept, and scarce some pale late light

Flitted along the streets through the still night,—

Lamps of debauch, forgotten and alone,

The feast’s lost fires left there to flicker on.

The walls’ large angles clove the light-lengthening shade

’Neath the white moon, or on some pool’s face played.

Perchance one heard, faint in the plain beneath,

The kiss suppressed, the mingling of the breath;

And the two sister cities, tired of heat,

In love’s embrace lay down in murmurs sweet!

Whilst sighing winds the scent of sycamore

From Sodom to Gomorrah softly bore!

Then over all spread out the blackened cloud,—

“’Tis here!” the Voice on high exclaimed aloud.