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Voltaire at Ferney


    Voltaire at Ferney

    W. H. Auden


    Perfectly happy now, he looked at his estate.
    An exile making watches glanced up as he passed
    And went on working; where a hospital was rising fast,
    A joiner touched his cap; an agent came to tell
    Some of the trees he'd planted were progressing well.
    The white alps glittered. It was summer. He was very great.

    Far off in Paris where his enemies
    Whsipered that he was wicked, in an upright chair
    A blind old woman longed for death and letters. He would write,
    "Nothing is better than life." But was it? Yes, the fight
    Against the false and the unfair
    Was always worth it. So was gardening. Civilize.

    Cajoling, scolding, screaming, cleverest of them all,
    He'd had the other children in a holy war
    Against the infamous grown-ups; and, like a child, been sly
    And humble, when there was occassion for
    The two-faced answer or the plain protective lie,
    But, patient like a peasant, waited for their fall.

    And never doubted, like D'Alembert, he would win:
    Only Pascal was a great enemy, the rest
    Were rats already poisoned; there was much, though, to be done,
    And only himself to count upon.
    Dear Diderot was dull but did his best;
    Rousseau, he'd always known, would blubber and give in.

    Night fell and made him think of women: Lust
    Was one of the great teachers; Pascal was a fool.
    How Emilie had loved astronomy and bed;
    Pimpette had loved him too, like scandal; he was glad.
    He'd done his share of weeping for Jerusalem: As a rule,
    It was the pleasure-haters who became unjust.

    Yet, like a sentinel, he could not sleep. The night was full of wrong,
    Earthquakes and executions: soon he would be dead,
    And still all over Europe stood the horrible nurses
    Itching to boil their children. Only his verses
    Perhaps could stop them: He must go on working: Overhead,
    The uncomplaining stars composed their lucid song.


    This poem is one of many published by the EServer, a nonprofit collective.