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Voltaire

(1694 - 1778 / Paris / France)

The Temple of Friendship


Sacred to peace, within a wood's recess,
A blest retreat, where courtiers never press,
A temple stands, where art did never try
With pompous wonders to enchant the eye;
There are no dazzling ornaments, nor vain,
But truth, simplicity, and nature reign:
The virtuous Gauls raised erst the noble shrine,
And sacred vowed to Friendship's power divine.
Mistaken mortals who believed their race,
Would never cease to crowd to such a place!
Orestes' name, and Pylades' appear,
Wrote on the front, names still to Friendship dear:
Pirithous' medal of uncommon size,
Those of soft Nisus and Achates wise.
All these are heroes, and as friends renowned,
These names are great, but still in fable found;
The power to this remote retreat retired,
Nor Tripod boasts, nor priests with truth inspired;
She miracles but seldom can effect,
No popish saint e'er met with such neglect.
Still in her presence faithful truth attends,
And to the goddess needful succor lends:
Truth's every ready to enlighten all,
But few on truth for kind assistance call.
In vain she waits for votaries at her shrine,
None come, though all at wanting her repine;
Her hand holds forth the register exact,
Of every generous, every friendly act;
Favors in which esteem with friendship vied,
Received not meanly, not conferred with pride:
Such favors as those who confer forget,
And who receive, declare without regret.
This history of the virtues of mankind,
Within a narrow compass is confined;
In Gothic characters all these are traced
Upon two sheets, by time almost defaced.
By what strange frenzy is mankind possessed,
Friendship is banished now from every breast;
Yet all usurp of Friend the sacred name,
And vilest hypocrites bring in their claim.
All that they're faithful to her laws maintain,
And even her enemies her rights profane:
In regions subject to the pope's command,
Thus we see beads oft in an atheist's hand.
'Tis said the goddess, each pretended friend,
Once in her presence summoned to attend;
She fixed the day on which they should be there,
A prize proposing for each faithful pair;
Who with a tenderness like hers replete,
Amongst true friends might justly claim a seat;
Then quickly came allured by such a prize,
The French who novelty still idolize:
A multitude before the temple came,
And first, two courtly friends preferred their claim,
By interest joined, thy walked still hand in hand,
And of their union Friendship thought the band:
Post-haste a courier came and made report,
That there was then a vacancy at court;
Away each friend polite that moment flies,
Forsakes at once the temple and the prize;
Thus in a moment friends are turned to foes,
Each swears his rival warmly to oppose:
Four devotees next issue from the throng,
Poring on prayer-books as they pass along;
Their charity to mankind overflows,
And with religious zeal their bosom glows.
A pampered prelate one with fat o'ergrown,
Triple-chinned, much to apoplexy prone;
The swine quite gorged with tithes, and overfed,
At length by indigestion's force lies dead:
Quick the confessor clears the sinner's score,
His soles are greased, his body sprinkled o'er,
And spruced up by the curate of the place,
To go his heavenly journey with good grace;
His three friends o'er him merrily say prayers,
His benefice alone excites their cares:
Devoutly rivals grown, each still pretends
Attachment most sincere to both his friends;
Yet all in making interest at the court,
Their brothers downright Jansenists report.
Two youths of fashion next came arm in arm,
Their eyes and hearts, their mistress letters charm:
These as they passed along they read aloud,
And both displayed their persons to the crowd;
Some favorite airs they sing, while they advance
Up to the altar, just as to a dance:
They fight about some trifle, one is slain,
And Friendship's altar hence receives a stain;
The less mad of the two with conquest crowned,
Left his dear friend expiring on the ground.
Next Lisis, with her much loved Chloe came,
From infancy their pleasures were the same;
Alike their humor, and alike their age,
Those trifles which the female heart engage;
Lisis was prone to Chloe to impart,
They spoke the overflowings of the heart;
At last one lover touched both female friends,
And strange to tell! here all their Friendship ends;
Lisis and Chloe Friendship's shrine forsake,
And the high road to Hatred's temple take.
The beauteous Zara shone forth in her turn,
With eyes that languish, whilst our hearts they burn:
'What languor,' said she, 'reigns in this abode!
By that sad goddess, say what joy's bestowed?
Here dismal melancholy dwells alone,
For love's soft joys are ever here unknown.'
Leaving the place, crowds followed her behind,
And struck with envy, twenty beauties pined:
Where next my Zara went, is known to none,
And Friendship's glorious prize could not be won:
The goddess everywhere so much admired;
So little known, and yet by all admired;
With cold upon her sacred altar froze--
Hence hapless mortals, hence derive your woes.

Submitted: Wednesday, July 08, 2009

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