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La legende des siecles

Victor Hugo

La Légende des siècles is a collection of poems conceived as an immense depiction of the history and evolution of humanity.

Written intermittently between 1855 and 1876, while the exiled Victor Hugo worked on numerous other projects, the poems were published in three series in 1859, 1877, and 1883. Bearing witness to an unparalleled poetic talent in which all Hugo's art is evident, the Légende des Siècles is often considered the only true French epic and, according to Baudelaire's formulation, the only modern epic possible.

The dreaming poet contemplates the "wall of the centuries," indistinct and terrible, on which scenes of the past, present and future are drawn, and along which the whole long procession of humanity can be seen. The poems are depictions of these scenes, fleetingly perceived and interspersed with terrifying visions. Hugo sought neither historical accuracy nor exhaustiveness; rather, he concentrated on obscure figures, usually his own inventions, who incarnated and symbolized their eras. As he proclaimed himself in the preface to the first series, "this is history, eavesdropped upon at the door of legend." The poems, by turns lyrical, epic and satirical, form a view of the human experience, seeking less to summarize than to illustrate the history of humanity, and to bear witness to its long journey from the darkness into the light.

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Main topics: soul, love, chivalry, destiny, God, exotic, fantastic, heroism, history, humanity, ideal, freedom, wonderful, misery, people, progress, redemption, religion.