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The Imperial Cloak
Victor Hugo

You honeybees whose work is play,
Who never look for any prey
But scents, breaths of celestial grace,
O you that flee the wintry hours,
And stealing amber from the flowers,
Make bounty for the human race,

Visiting on your way, like brides,
The lilies of the mountainsides,
You virtuous dew-drinking folk,
Daughters and sisters of the day
And scarlet petals, come away—
Rise up, fly from this cloak!

And hurl yourselves against the man!
You things of purity and plan,
Workers of good, wagers of war,
You wings of gold, you darts of fire,
Whirl round and round the shameful liar!
Tell him: “What do you take us for?

Accursed wretch, we are the bees!
Where vines cast shady draperies
On chalet walls, we build our nest;
Born in the azure, we repose
On the mouth of the parted rose,
On Plato’s lips we rest.

What comes from slime goes back again.
Go join Tiberius in his den,
Charles IX on his balcony.
Go! On your purple robe should strut,
Not the bees of Hymettus, but
The black flies of the gallows-tree!”

And sting the fellow, one and all.
Put to shame those who cringe and crawl;
Blind the deceitful renegade,
Hunt him down in a savage rout,
And let the insects drive him out,
Since men are too afraid!


Tr. E.H. and A.M. Blackmore