BOOKS MARCH 12, 2008
I saw a white angel passing over my head;
Its dazzling flight pacified the storm
And lulled from a distance the noisy sea.
"What have you come to do, angel, in this night?"
I asked. It answered, "I come to take your soul."
And I was afraid, because I saw it was a woman;
And I said, trembling and holding out my arms,
"What will be left of me? Because you will fly away."
The angel did not respond. The shadow-besieged sky
Was turning dark. "If you take my soul," I cried,
"Where will you take it? Show me in what place."
Still there was silence. "O traveler of the blue sky,
Are you death?" I said. "Or are you life?"
And the night was growing over my ravished soul,
And the angel became black, and said, "I am love."
But its somber brow was more charming than daylight,
And I saw, through the darkness where its eyes were shining,
The stars through the feathers of its wings.
By Victor Hugo; Translated from the French by Paul Berman