The “Ecstasy” that Hugo describes in this twelve-line poem is his experience of himself in nature as nature identifies itself with God. The poem reads, in prose translation, as follows:I was standing alone by the waves on a starry night, under a cloudless sky and by a sea unbothered by sails. My eyes saw more than the material world; and the woods and mountains and all of nature seemed to question, in mingled murmur, the waves of the sea and the fires of heaven. And the countless legions of golden stars were answering, in voices raised and lowered in a host of harmonies; and the blue waves, which nothing controls or hinders, were saying, as their crest foamed back in an arc, “It is the Lord, the Lord God!”
The solitary stance of the individual in an almost but not quite pantheistic communion with nature is a characteristic posture of nineteenth century Romantic poets in Germany and England, as well as in France. During the eighteenth century, “nature” was “human nature,” which could be improved by rationalism and enlightenment, and ecstasy was as suspect an irrational quality as it had been to Plato. With Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, William Wordsworth, and Hugo, however, “nature” was the terrestrial and physical universe with which an individual could establish a subjective relationship that was predispositional to spiritual gratification and religious satisfaction. Hugo intones that relationship in this short lyric, in which ecstasy and the night transcend reason and daylight.