Guy de Maupassant
Des Vers, 1880
Ce soir-là j’avais lu fort longtemps quelque auteur.
Il était bien minuit, et tout à coup j’eus peur.
Peur de quoi ? je ne sais, mais une peur horrible.
Je compris, haletant et frissonnant d’effroi,
Qu’il allait se passer une chose terrible…
Alors il me sembla sentir derrière moi
Quelqu’un qui se tenait debout, dont la figure
Riait d’un rire atroce, immobile et nerveux :
Et je n’entendais rien, cependant. O torture !
Sentir qu’il se baissait à toucher mes cheveux,
Et qu’il allait poser sa main sur mon épaule,
Et que j’allais mourir au bruit de sa parole !…
Il se penchait toujours vers moi, toujours plus près ;
Et moi, pour mon salut éternel, je n’aurais
Ni fait un mouvement ni détourné la tête…
Ainsi que des oiseaux battus par la tempête,
Mes pensers tournoyaient comme affolés d’horreur.
Une sueur de mort me glaçait chaque membre,
Et je n’entendais pas d’autre bruit dans ma chambre
Que celui de mes dents qui claquaient de terreur.Un craquement se fit soudain ; fou d’épouvante,
Ayant poussé le plus terrible hurlement
Qui soit jamais sorti de poitrine vivante,
Je tombai sur le dos, roide et sans mouvement.
Retrieved from: https://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/Des_vers/Terreur
That night I read some book until it was late.
It was around midnight and all of sudden I got scared.
What was I scared of ? I do not know, but I was awfully scared.
Breathless and shivering, I understood
That something terrible was about to happen…
And then it seemed I could feel that someone
Was standing behind me, still, laughing a bloodcurdling laugh.
Yet, I couldn’t hear anything. O torture !
I could feel he was bending to touch my hair
And that he was about to put his hand on my shoulder
And that I was going to die as soon as he would speak.
He was still leaning towards me, closer and closer,
And to stay alive, I wouldn’t move or even look away…
Similar to a bird beaten by a storm,
My thoughts swirled, panic-striken.
Sweat cold as death turned my blood to ice,
And I couldn’t hear anything else in my bedroom
Than the noise my chattering teeth were making.
I suddenly heard a crack ; scared to death,
I let out the most terrible scream
That any living creature ever produced,
And I felt down, on my back, stiff and motionless.
In order to fully understand this poem, it is important to remember that Guy de Maupassant is considered one of the fathers of the modern short story. He wrote both realist and fantastic stories and novels, but he’s most remembered for the latter. Short stories such as “Le Horal” describe supernatural phenomena. However, in Maupassant’s work, the supernatural is often implicitly a symptom of the protagonist’s troubled mind. Maupassant was fascinated by the disciple of psychiatry.
In regard of Maupassant’s work and legacy, this poem is quite interesting as it is an illustration of what he is remembered for. This poem depicts someone who is reading late at night and suddenly literally gets scared to death. We do not know what the person is reading – maybe a horror story ? – but all the elements of a traditional horror story are here : the time (midnight, this magical and cursed hour when anything can happen), the setting (the protagonist is all alone in the room), the plot (a threatening presence you can’t rationally explain). It is very reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe, who could have inspired Maupassant to write this poem.
The reader can only see what the protagonist sees, but there is some piece of evidence showing that everything is happening inside the protagonist’s head: someone is laughing but he can’t hear the laugh, he can’t hear anything but his own body, and can’t see who’s here. This poem can be read as an illustration of how horror stories trick your mind and make you paranoid, as well as a mise en abyme of the reader’s own experience while reading this poem, but also in a fantastic or horror story. It emphasizes how one’s mind reacts to this kind of stories.
Prepared by Margaux Renvoise