Jules Vallès 1883
First Published: Le Cri du Peuple, November 29, 1883;
Source: Eugène Pottier, Chants Révolutionnaires (second edition), Paris, Bureau de Comité Pottier, [n.d.];
Translated: from the original for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2017.
He is an old comrade, a comrade of the great days. He was there at the Commune; he was exiled as Hugo was. Like Hugo, he too is a poet, but an unknown poet, lost in the shadows.
His verses don’t strike the shield of Austerlitz or the armor of the cuirassiers of Waterloo; they don’t fly on birds’ wings to the mountain where Olympia dreams and sighs. They don’t perch on manes atop helmets or on the crests of clouds; they remain on the street, on the streets of the poor.
But I don’t know if some of the cries issued from deep in the mud by this Juvenal of the working class quarters don’t have an eloquence as poignant, or don’t emanate a more just emotion than the most admirable stanzas of [Victor Hugo’s] Chatiments.
To be sure, we shouldn’t compare this line soldier to the drum major of an epic. But on the ground, a little infantryman who, hidden in the grass, hits his target is worth more than a drum major who fires too high.
And then, by the greatness of his genius Hugo is too far above the crowd to be able to speak to every corner of their hearts.
The voice of a brother in labor and suffering is needed for this.
The man I am speaking of worked and suffered. This is why he was able to depict, with heartbreaking simplicity, the life of suffering and labor.
It is to that side that we must now turns our gaze and our thoughts; to the side of the great anonymous army that capital drives to famine and death.
Leave aside the armor wearers and the cannon draggers: we've licked their boots for long enough! Let us speak of workshops and not of barracks; let us not flatter the still smoking mouths of cannons, but rather escort with our clamors of pity and anger those who the machine mutilates, starves, and crushes. Those who can no longer find a way to earn their bread because their craft has been destroyed, or because they are thought too old when they ask, like alms, for the right to die at work!
Pottier, my old friend, you are the Tyrtaeus of a battle without lightning flashes that is being delivered against the burned and blackened walls of factories, or between the walls of houses in a state of ruin, where lead waste makes as many victims as lead bullets.
Remain the poet of this world that doesn’t resort to tirades and forever drapes itself in rags, and you will have opened a new field to walled-in poverty and popular poetry.
It is there, that poetry, under the cap of the vagabond who will end up in the penal colony, and under the bonnet of the mother who has no more milk to feed her little one; crime and distress rub elbows in social fatality. Shout this out to the fortunate! And throw, like cartridges, your saddened verses into the work blouses of those who, tired of suffering injustice and torture, are ready for revolt. For they need us to encourage them, and they deserve our salute while they fight and before they die!