Voltaire

(1694 - 1778 / Paris / France)

On the Death of Adrienne Lecouvreur, A Celebrated Actress


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 [1] 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?

Submitted: Wednesday, July 08, 2009

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