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French Poetry: “La Coccinelle” de Victor Hugo Posted by on May 21, 2018 in Uncategorized

I always love the time of year when ladybugs start coming out. In French, a ladybug is called une coccinelle, and it symbolizes good luck. The French often refer to les coccinelles as “les bêtes à bon Dieu,” which means something like “Good God’s creatures.”

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Some linguists state that this expression dates back to medieval times. According to medieval legend, an innocent man was wrongly condemned to death by beheading for murder. Just as the executioner’s (le bourreau) blade was about to come down, une coccinelle landed on the man’s neck (cou) and refused to move. Eventually, le roi Robert II (972-1031) believed that the presence of the coccinelle was une intervention divine and decided to pardon (gracier) the man. Afterwards, the real murderer was found and ever since la coccinelle has been seen as a lucky charm of sorts (un porte-bonheur).

The French writer Victor Hugo famously dedicated a poem to la coccinelle, You can read it below:

La Coccinelle (1830)

Elle me dit : Quelque chose

Me tourmente. Et j’aperçus
Son cou de neige, et, dessus,
Un petit insecte rose.

J’aurais dû – mais, sage ou fou,
A seize ans on est farouche,
Voir le baiser sur sa bouche
Plus que l’insecte à son cou.

On eût dit un coquillage ;
Dos rose et taché de noir.
Les fauvettes pour nous voir
Se penchaient dans le feuillage.

Sa bouche franche était là :
Je me courbai sur la belle,
Et je pris la coccinelle ;
Mais le baiser s’envola.

– Fils, apprends comme on me nomme,
Dit l’insecte du ciel bleu,
Les bêtes sont au bon Dieu,
Mais la bêtise est à l’homme.

 

You can read the translation below:

The Ladybug

She told me: Something is

bothering me. And I noticed

her white neck and, on it,

a little pink bug.

I should have—but, wise or mad,

at sixteen one is timid,

seen the kiss on her mouth

more than the insect on her neck.

One would have thought it a shell:

a pink back with black marks.

Warblers leaned out from the branches

to better see us.

Her honest mouth was there:

I bent toward the beauty,

and I took the ladybug;

but the kiss flew away.

Son, learn what they call me,

said the insect from the blue sky.

Insects belong to Good God

but stupidity belongs to humans.

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About the Author: Elizabeth Schmermund

Bonjour tout le monde! I'm a freelance writer, doctoral student, mom, and Francophile. I'm excited to share some of my experiences living in France, as well as the cultural nuances that I've learned being married to a Frenchman, with all of you. To find out more about me, feel free to check out my website at http://www.imaginistwriter.com. A la prochaine!


Comments:

  1. Sonja Tal:

    I know lots of French poems but not that one! Thanks. Where did you find it? Was it part of a larger poem or collection?

    • Elizabeth Schmermund:

      @Sonja Tal I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Sonja! It comes from the first part of Hugo’s “Contemplations.” Bonne lecture!