Victor Hugo, Melancholia II. The Contemplations, 1838.

The heavy cart holds an enormous stone;
The work horse sweats from bit to croupier,
Pulls and the horseman whips him, and the slippery path
Rises up, and the sad horse's breast fills with blood.
He pulls, drags, groans, pulls again and stops;
The black whip circles overhead;
It's Monday; the man was drinking at the Porcherons yesterday -
A wine full of furor, of shouting, of curses;
Oh! such is the formidable law that delivers
One being to another, the frightened beast to the drunken man!
The overwhelmed animal cannot manage a step;
He senses the shadow weighing on him, doesn't know,
Under the block that crushes him and the whip that stuns,
What the stone wants, what the man wants,
And the horseman is no longer but a storm of blows,
Falling upon this slave labourer who pulls whatever he's hooked up to,
Who suffers and knows nor repose nor Sunday;
If the cord breaks, the man strikes with the handle,
If the whip breaks, he strikes with his foot;
And the horse, trembling, haggard, crippled,
Lowers his sad neck and his muddled head;
Beneath the blows of the steel-tipped boot you hear
The abdomen of the poor mute sounding!
He groans; just a minute ago he was moving;
But he no longer moves, his force is spent,
And the furious blows rain down; his agony
Makes a final effort; his foot misses its mark,
He falls, and there he is, broken beneath the shaft;
And in the shadow, as his burden redoubles,
He looks at Someone with his troubled eye;
And you see it slowly go out, humble, dulled,
This eye, full of the dark stupors of infinity,
Where briefly shines the horrifying soul of all things.

"The Horse Misery". Drawing by Steinlen, L’Assiette au beurre, no. 219 from 10 June 1905

National Library of France, engravings and photography department