Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux

(1 November 1636 – 13 March 1711 / Paris, France)

The Argument - Poem by Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux

An Owl instructed by the Night,
Cunningly counterfeits A Sprite :
In Pulpit close she lies Perdue,
And terrifies the Prelates Crew!
They Routed fly with heavy Clatter,
The Canto tells you, what's the matter ;
But Discord to Retrieve the sport
Rallies them soon in Warlike sort :
All Oppositions overpast,
They set the Pulpit up at last :
But fear not lest the Prelate Preacht in't ;
Alas he has a further reach in't !
To spight his Foes, yet for all's Feating,
The proof of th' Pudding's seen i'th' eating.

But Night in hast with her Dark Canopy,
Shrowding the viny Plains of Burgundy,
Flew back to th' City ; and as suddenly
Wheel'd round to view the Towers of Monlheri ;
Those walls, whose towering Summits mate the skies,
Built on a Rock which Duskie Clouds disguise.
And objects representing seen from far,
That they dis move perswade the Passenger.
Here ominous Birds, here Ravens foreboding fate,
In ruinous Chinks do roost, and keep their state ;
Here thirty Winters mur'd in obscure Cell
An Owl secure from hatefull Light did dwell :
This trusty Messenger of Dire mishap
Has the first News of Ill dropt in her lap ;
And always ready to proclaim sad Tiding
Waits in these Deserts, Nights approach abiding :
At whose return her Accents rend the Skies,
And fright the Vicinage with black Destinies ;
Complaining Progne answers to her Tones,
And mourning Philomel renews her Groans.
To whom Night thus : Come, follow me! The Bird
Obey'd, when first her Mistress voice she heard :
With flight Precipitant, the Pair, out spring
And reach the Town high fayling on the Wing,
The wasting at one Reach, they proudly Pearch
On highest Pinnacle of the fatal Church !
Night curst her Eyes to see the Camrades march,
For now All three had reacht the Porches Arch ;
She saw the Clock-maker, with faithful fingers
A glass of smiling Wine hold, glad, nor lingers :
Here Trusty Mates, A health I here Begin,
They pledg'd him, to their Patron Gilotin :
Oh see ( says Night ) these Rogues sing Huzza ! proud
Of sure success, under my favouring Shroud ;
But come ! the Traitors soon shall feel our Might,
If I at least be justly styled Night !
This said, she leads into the Sacred Vault,
Into the Vestry flies, there makes an Alt,
And in the Concave of the fatal Pew,
Orders Madge Howlet there to lie Perdue !
Mean while, our three great Champions flown with Wine,
And Wines effects, Audacity ; with Design
To push their Project on, without regard
To Danger near, had pass'd the Pallace-yard,
Embolden'd with success, still on they go
And mount the Stairs, leading to th' Portico,
Here a Bookseller in his back-shop slept,
And under double Padlock safely kept
Rogero's worthy Works ! and he may still
Keep ‘em entire, for sure no other will.
Now wary Boirude, fearing Danger nigh
Stops his rash Friends in heat of Zeal ; to try
How they might light a Candle : from his Pocket
He takes his Marchasite, begins to knock it
With hardned Steel, out springs an Active spark,
The hope of Light in the Despair of Dark ;
The spark in Tinder cherisht, toucht with Metch
In Sulphur dip't, kindles with quick dispatch
The Torck ; which like a Comet blazing bright
Supplies the Office of Don Phœbus Light.
Boirude the Sexton, kept the Church-dore Key,
And if he entrance got, then why not they ?
With equal pace the Temples nave they measure !
Into the Vestry came : Here lies the Treasure !
Here prostate they behold the Pulpit's frame,
And with due Reverence adore the fame !
The Gloomy shades of that Religioius place
Horrour begat, the Bigot Church-man's Grace
Horror awakes Devotion ; they pray !
And dread those Deities they Scorn'd by day.
When thus the Clock-maker : Why stare ye thus,
My Masters, A-la-mort ? time's precious !
Why stand we trembling, trifling, shall I, shall I ?
Our work's before us, let's no longer dally !
The Pulpit must be rais', that by to morrow
Our Dean may see't with Joy, his Foes with Sorrow !
So said, he laid his bones to't ; and did strain
To roll it o're, with all his Might, and Main ;
He scarce had mov'd it, O portentous wonder !
When from its hollow womb a Voice did Thunder ;
Brontin starts back ! The Sexton lookt like Dead !
John with his Dear, twice wisht himself in Bed !
But on their purpose obstinately bent,
They roll it o're, true Zeal will ne're relent !
Out flies the broad-fac'd Chorister of the Night,
And with her ruffling wings strikes out the Light :
This struck their Souls with horrible Confusion,
Amaz'd they stand, they doubt ; but in conclusion,
As soon as Fear lent them the use of Feet
Away they trudge, fill'd with shame and Regret ;
The Nave they soon recover ; whil'st their hair
Stands bristling on their heads, dissolving fear
Makes their Knees quiver underneath their Bodies,
And there they sneaking stand like baffled Noddies,
Sheltred by the same Darkness brought them thither,
The Squadron flies at last, they knew not whither.
So when a Jolly Grew of Truants gather
Into some Nook, to play their pranks together,
Secure of Eyes from Monitor and Master,
They burn the day in game, and sport the faster ;
If now by chance, the Tyrants Eye doth watch ‘em,
And unawares at Cards or Dice he catch ‘em ;
The sad surprise, their Mirth and Pastime dashes,
And each shifts for himself to scape his lashes.
Such was our Warriours plight when once the Owl
Sprung from the Pew, set up her Doleful howl.
Discord, who saw unseen their fowl disgrace,
Clapping her wings, pity'd their woful case :
Their Spirits quail'd, their Courages abated ;
Rallies in haft the Troop disanimated.
Of Sidrae, she th' Audacious Visage borrow'd,
His front she smooth'd into a smile ; but furrow'd
Confirms his staggering steps ; thus stalks along
The Marble Pavement ; guided by a Torch,
Finds out the skulking Cowards near the Porch ;
Then with a squaking Voice spoke fourscore years,
Awakes their mettle, dissipates their Fears.
Rascals ! where are you? What Pannick Dread does rout you ?
Run from one paultry Owl ? ne're look about you !
Where are those boasts which late breath'd nought but Thunder ?
Fie ! Shall a harmless Bird disperse y' asunder ?
How would you sneak, vilce Souls, if at the Barr,
My daily sport, you met with horrid Warr ?
How would you stand a tedious Chanc'ry Hearing,
If poor Hobhowchin puts you in this fearing ?
Hw would your hearts misgive to bide a Triall,
No Friend at Hand, nor in your Purse a Ryall ?
Believe me ( Cowards ! ) I, with Grace be't spoken,
Simply thô I stand here, have foil'd and broken
A Chapter, with her Chanons, Prebends, Dean ;
Nor was my Soul so Abject, Base, so Mean,
But I durst look the Proctors in their faces,
I have pursu'd ‘em all, Asham'd, confuted,
‘Tis Persecutors, cry'd out, Persecuted !
All this I did, and ten times more in sooth,
With the sole Breast-plate arm'd of Naked Truth !
The Church of old was mann'd with Gallant Spirits,
A Novice then confiding in the Merits
Of the fam'd Good Old Cause, dar'd to Defend it
In formâ Pauperis, and make ‘em end it !
But this Decrepid Age to Sloath inclines,
Nor brings forth now such Puissant Divines !
Thus far howe're their Virtues imitate,
Let not an owl your Courages abate :
Think what a Blot it draws upon your Glory,
How it does stain the luster of your story :
If once the Chaunter learns your base Defeat,
Your flight Ignoble, and your vile Retreat,
Where e're he meet you, hee'd thus fleer and flout you ;
Heark, the Owl cryes ! brave Souldiers look about you !
Then will your conscious guilt with shame upbraid you,
You' curse your slavish fears that Cowards made you !
Then reinforce your Spirits, by preventing
Th' Affronts, which will be bitter in resenting :
Remember, Sirs, whose Cause your hands engages,
First win, then bravely wear his Lawrel wages :
Recall your wonted worth, new frights forgetting ;
‘Tis Tork-shire Cloath, you know, that shrinks i'th' wetting !
But I perceive success my speech doth follow,
Then march, run, fly ( brave Boys ! ) where dangers call you !
That our Great Mitred Prince, may see his Engines
Befre th'Affront be spread, taking due Vengeance.
This spoke, the Fiend disguis'd in flash of Fire
Vanisht, with fresh rage did their hearts inspire.
Just so it was, Great Conde ! at that battle
When thy brave Arms made Rhine and Sheld to rattle,
Thy wings, and Battle on lens spacious Border
Inclin'd to rout, and lean'd to foul discorder,
Thy Valour firm'd the wavering Troops that day,
And spirited their Files with fresh array !
Inspir'd new Hearts, and gave ‘em all New Hands,
Till vanquisht Victory follow'd thy Commands !
Thus in a moment Rage succeeded Fear,
And clouded courage once again shone clear !
They countermarch ! The Owl Retreats quite routed
And now they scorn her, whome so late they doubted.
Not unreveng'd ! for as she flew, she muted
In Boirude's gaping mouth, triumph'd and hooted ;
Rascally Bird, (said he ) All Face and Feather !
The Shame of Day ; the Boder of Ill Weather !
Dar'st thou perfume ( profane ! ) to spice i'th' Quire ?
And make the Pulpit A Sir-Reverence higher ?
And Scot-free this ! No, no, I'm not in sport ;
I'le trounce and bounce thee for't i'th' Spiritual Court ;
Where Doctors, Proctors, Paritors together
Shann't leave upon thy Naked back one Feather ;
I'le make thee then for all thy Hooting, sneak
Like her that scap'd the Devils Arse i'th' Peak :
But talk's but talk ! Come Boyes, let's fall to action !
The Owl is flown ! the last o'th' Chanters faction !
The Pulpit now is heav'd into the Quire,
And on the Chanter's Seat advanced higher,
Her Rotten ledge repair'd ; her Joints that gaped
With Planes united ; all was comely shaped !
The Wainscott eccho's to the lab'ring hammer,
The Roof back to the Walls refounds the Clamor ;
The Organ-pipes provok'd with this rude Rumbling,
Struck up a Base, and gravely fell a grumbling !
Now Chanter ! black's thy Day, thou little thinkest
What work's a brewing ; Sleep in Boles thou drinkest,
On both ears ; snoring after late Debauches,
Nor dream'st what mischief now thy Head approaches :
Secure thou ly'st unmarm'd, unwarn'd of Harms,
Hugging thy Dainty Doxy in thy Arms !
O that some friendly Ghost, in Nightly Vision
Would timously reveal thy sad condition !
Now ! now they heave ! the hateful Pulpit rearing !
‘Twould strike thee dead, wer't thou within the Hearing ;
Alas ! above thy Seat, the Machine glories
To have surmounted thee five lofty stories ;
The Sexton at three strokes, makes the Nail enter,
And now the Pulpit stands firm on its Center.


Comments about The Argument by Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux

  • Bernard F. Asuncion (11/1/2016 6:37:00 PM)


    Complaining Progne answers to her Tones,
    And mourning Philomel renews her Groans.

    What an argument! ! !
    (Report) Reply

    0 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • Edward Kofi Louis (11/1/2016 1:14:00 AM)

    Instructed
    This rude rumbling! ! Thanks for sharing this poem with us. (Report) Reply

Read all 2 comments »



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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, October 17, 2012



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