Nicholas Boileau-Despreaux

(1 November 1636 – 13 March 1711 / Paris)

Advice To Authors - Poem by Nicholas Boileau-Despreaux

There is a kind of writer pleased with sound,
Whose fustian head with clouds is compassed round--
No reason can disperse them with its light;
Learn then to think, ere you pretend to write
As your idea's clear, or else obscure,
The expression follows, perfect or impure;
What we conceive with ease we can express;
Words to the notions flow with readiness.

Observe the language well in all you write,
And swerve not from it in your loftiest flight.
The smoothest verse and the exactest sense
Displease if uncouth language give offense;
A barbarous phrase no reader can approve;
Nor bombast, noise, or affectation love.
In short, without pure language, what you write
Can never yield us profit or delight.

Take time for thinking; never work in haste;
And value not yourself for writing fast;
A rapid poem, with such fury writ,
Shows want of judgment, not abounding wit.
More pleased we are to see a river lead
His gentle streams along a flowery mead,
Than from high banks to hear loud torrents roar,
With foamy waters, on a muddy shore.
Gently make haste, of labor not afraid;
A hundred times consider what you've said;
Polish, repolish, every color lay,
And sometimes add, but oftener take away.

'Tis not enough, when swarming faults are writ,
That here and there are scattered sparks of wit;
Each object must be fixed in the true place,
And differing parts have corresponding grace;
Till, by a curious art disposed, we find
One perfect whole of all the pieces joined.
Keep to your subject close in all you say,
Nor for a sounding sentence ever stray.

The public censure for your writings fear,
And to yourself be critic most' severe;
Fantastic wits their darling follies love,
But find you faithful friends that will reprove,
That on your works may look with careful eyes,
And of your faults be zealous enemies.
Lay by an author's pride and vanity,
And from a friend a flatterer descry,
Who seems to like, but means not what he says;
Embrace true counsel, but suspect false praise.

A sycophant will everything admire;
Each verse, each sentence, sets his soul on fire;
All is divine! there's not a word amiss!
He shakes with joy and weeps with tenderness;
He overpowers you with his mighty praise.

Truth never moves in those impetuous ways.
A faithful friend is careful of your fame,
And freely will your heedless errors blame;
He cannot pardon a neglected line,
But verse to rule and order will confine,
Reprove of words the too-affected sound,--
'Here the sense flags, and your expression's bound,
Your fancy tires, and your discourse grows vain;
Your term's improper;--make it just and plain.'
Thus 'tis a faithful friend will freedom use.
But authors partial to their darling muse
Think to protect it they have just pretense,
And at your friendly counsel take offense.
'Said you of this, that the expression's flat?
Your servant, sir, you must excuse me that,'
He answers you. 'This word has here no grace,
Pray leave it out.'--'That, sir, 's the properest place.'

'This term I like not.'--''Tis approved by all.'
Thus, resolute not from one fault to fall,
If there's a symbol as to which you doubt,
'Tis a sure reason not to blot it out.
Yet still he says you may his faults confute,
And over him your power is absolute.
But of his feigned humility take heed:
'Tis a bait laid to make you hear him read;
And when he leaves you, happy in his muse,
Restless he runs some other to abuse.

And often finds; for in our scribbling times
No fool can lack a fool to praise his rhymes;
The flattest work has here within the court
Met with some zealous ass for its support;
And in all times a forward scribbling fop
Has found some greater fool to cry him up.

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, September 23, 2010

Poem Edited: Tuesday, November 1, 2011

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