ON THE DEATH OF ADRIENNE LECOUVREUR, A CELEBRATED
by: Voltaire (François
Marie Arouet, 1694-1778)
- HAT sight of woe thus harrows
up my soul!
- Must those love-darting eyes in anguish roll?
- Shall ghastly death such charms divine invade?
- You muses, graces, loves come to her aid.
- Oh! you my gods and hers assist the fair,
- Your image sure must well deserve your care.
- Alas! thou diest, I press thy corpse alone;
- Thou diest, the fatal news too soon is known.
- In such a loss, each tender feeling heart
- Is touched like mine, and takes in grief a part.
- I hear the arts on every side deplore
- Their loss, and cry, "Melpomene's no more:"
- What exclamations will the future race
- Utter, at hearing of those arts' disgrace?
- See cruel men a burying place refuse,
- To her whom Greece had worshipped as a muse;
- When living, they adored her power divine,
- To her they bowed like votaries at a shrine:
- Should she then, breathless, criminal be thought,
- And is it then to charm the world a fault?
- Seine's  banks should now
no more be deemed profane,
- Lecouvreur's sacred ashes there remain:
- At this sad tomb, shrine sacred to thy shade,
- Our vows are still as at a temple paid.
- I don't revere the famed St. Denis more,
- Thy graces, charms, and wit, I there adore:
- I loved them living, incense now I'll burn,
- And pay due honors to thy sacred urn.
- Though error and ingratitude are bent,
- To brand with infamy thy monument.
- Shall Frenchmen never know what they require,
- But damn capriciously what they admire?
- Must laws with manners jar? Must every mind
- In France, be made by superstition blind?
- Wherefore should England be the only clime,
- Where to think freely is not deemed a crime?
- Oh! London, Athens' rival, thou alone,
- Could tyrants, and could prejudice dethrone;
- In that blest region, general freedom reigns,
- Merit is honored, and reward obtains:
- Marlborough the greatest general of his age,
- Harmonious Dryden,
Addison the sage,
- Immortal Newton, charming Oldfield there,
- The honors due to real genius share.
- The farce of life had there Lecouvreur closed
- With heroes, statesmen, kings she had reposed;
- Genius at London makes its owner great,
- Freedom and wealth have in that happy state,
- Procured the inhabitants immortal fame,
- They rival now the Greek and Roman name.
- Parnassian laurels wither in our fields,
- And France no more a crop of merit yields:
- Wherefore you gods do all our glories fade,
- Why is not honor due to genius paid?
She was buried on a bank of the Seine.
POEMS BY VOLTAIRE
This English translation by William
F. Fleming of 'On the Death of Adrienne Lecouvreur, a Celebrated
Actress' is reprinted from The Works of Voltaire, Volume XXXVI.
Trans. William F. Fleming. New York: E.R. DuMONT, 1901.