Rabelais

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Rabelais
by Alexander Anderson


RABELAIS.


J'aime[1] Monsieur Francois Rabelais, that
   Rough, shoulder-shrugging, laughing Frenchman,
Who struts about, broad, red, and fat,
   With humour for his constant henchman;
Who shoots his wit like arrows out,
   Which goes straight home, like shoulder-smiters,
Then shrugs himself and wheels about —
   The Falstaff of his country's writers.

9Your Fènèlon can smoothly glide,
   Harmoniously in polish'd setting;
And Racine, who for sorrow died
   Because his monarch took to petting;
And Molière — witty dog — who caught
   The lighter nature of his brothers,
And, like Greek Aristophanes, taught
   How much of spleen broad laughter smothers.

17Then keen Voltaire, who sniff'd and tried
   All things by the test of suspicion,
Who, holding a free lance, could ride
   At aught without an intermission;
And yet for all his witty ways
   Could not by any form of pleading,
Write a lust-spiel[2], so Richter[3] says
   In Hesperus[4], which is toughish reading.

25But, corps de Dieu, this Rabelais stands
   With broad and rubicon complexion,
And tickles you as if with hands,
   Until you catch his own infection.
He cares not for your priests or kings,
   That strut upon this stage so fickle,
But holds them both as legal things
   To poke his fingers at and tickle.

33Of course, the faults that mark'd his age
   Are found in this bluff, jolly toper,
Who says things very far from sage,
   Which to translate would be improper.
Yet innocent enough they lie
   Behind their old French style of cover,
That costs you many a weary sigh
   Before you can get rightly over.

41But still you like him in your mind,
   And hang upon each wordy duel;
And laugh with him, and slip behind
   Grandgousier and Pantagruel.
Frère Jean, too, has a spell to cast
   About you, very deep and daring—
Frère Jean, that rough iconoclast,
   Who fells opponents with his swearing.

49Comment, frère Jean, vous jurez?[5] sighs
   A friend, who thought that habit shocking;
C'est pour orner mon langage, cries
   This testy Jean, so fond of joking.
Poor Hood, from Deutchland writing back,
   Said Luther's statue, to his liking,
Was counterpart of Friar Jack —
   A compliment not wise or striking.

57A nos moutons[6] it were for me
   A task to ferret out the meaning
That lies behind la joyeuse vie,
   De Pantagruel and its screening.
Yet, inter nos, it might be said,
   Apart from all his classic chaffing,
That Rabelais sometimes shakes his head,
   As if our duty were — not laughing.

65But yet, as Pierre Dupont holds,
   The mighty soif[7] with which he rages
Is but that high thirst which enfolds
   Itself around the lore of sages.
That all his praise of golden wine,
   And reeling Bacchic invitations,
But symbolise Minerva's shrine,
   By which we ought to pour libations.

73Then setting François in the light
   Of teacher in his way, and putting
His grand peut-être out of sight,
   As not our present purpose suiting;
But thinking that his moral's pith
   Is broad, and very far from mystic,
I laugh myself, and finish with
   A stanza Pantagruelistic.

81Come, buveurs[8], jolly topers, drink
   From golden wisdom's flowing sources,
Until like her own owl we blink,
   And reel with all her heavenward forces.
Ha, parlons de boire[9] and sup,
   Le bon Dieu is the boundless giver;
Ventre de Saint Quenet, drink up,
   And let the world grow wise for ever.




Notes

  1. J'aime — I like (fr).
  2. Lustspiel — a comedy (de).
  3. Jean Paul or Johann Paul Friedrich Richter, a German Romantic writer, best known for his humorous novels and stories.
  4. "Hesperus" (1795) — the best-selling books by Jean Paul made him famous.
  5. Comment, frère Jean, vous jurez? — How, brother Jean, you swear? (fr).
  6. Revenons à nos moutons — let us return to our sheep: let us get back to the subject (fr).
  7. Soif — thirst (fr).
  8. Buveurs — drunkards (fr).
  9. Parlons de boire — let us speak of a drinking (fr).