Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 21

How Panurge consulteth with an old French poet, named Raminagrobis.

I never thought, said Pantagruel, to have encountered with any man so headstrong in his apprehensions, or in his opinions so wilful, as I have found you to be and see you are. Nevertheless, the better to clear and extricate your doubts, let us try all courses, and leave no stone unturned nor wind unsailed by. Take good heed to what I am to say unto you. The swans, which are fowls consecrated to Apollo, never chant but in the hour of their approaching death, especially in the Meander flood, which is a river that runneth along some of the territories of Phrygia. This I say, because Aelianus and Alexander Myndius write that they had seen several swans in other places die, but never heard any of them sing or chant before their death. However, it passeth for current that the imminent death of a swan is presaged by his foregoing song, and that no swan dieth until preallably he have sung.

After the same manner, poets, who are under the protection of Apollo, when they are drawing near their latter end do ordinarily become prophets, and by the inspiration of that god sing sweetly in vaticinating things which are to come. It hath been likewise told me frequently, that old decrepit men upon the brinks of Charon’s banks do usher their decease with a disclosure all at ease, to those that are desirous of such informations, of the determinate and assured truth of future accidents and contingencies. I remember also that Aristophanes, in a certain comedy of his, calleth the old folks Sibyls, (Greek). For as when, being upon a pier by the shore, we see afar off mariners, seafaring men, and other travellers alongst the curled waves of azure Thetis within their ships, we then consider them in silence only, and seldom proceed any further than to wish them a happy and prosperous arrival; but when they do approach near to haven, and come to wet their keels within their harbour, then both with words and gestures we salute them, and heartily congratulate their access safe to the port wherein we are ourselves. Just so the angels, heroes, and good demons, according to the doctrine of the Platonics, when they see mortals drawing near unto the harbour of the grave, as the most sure and calmest port of any, full of repose, ease, rest, tranquillity, free from the troubles and solicitudes of this tumultuous and tempestuous world; then is it that they with alacrity hail and salute them, cherish and comfort them, and, speaking to them lovingly, begin even then to bless them with illuminations, and to communicate unto them the abstrusest mysteries of divination. I will not offer here to confound your memory by quoting antique examples of Isaac, of Jacob, of Patroclus towards Hector, of Hector towards Achilles, of Polymnestor towards Agamemnon, of Hecuba, of the Rhodian renowned by Posidonius, of Calanus the Indian towards Alexander the Great, of Orodes towards Mezentius, and of many others. It shall suffice for the present that I commemorate unto you the learned and valiant knight and cavalier William of Bellay, late Lord of Langey, who died on the Hill of Tarara, the 10th of January, in the climacteric year of his age, and of our supputation 1543, according to the Roman account. The last three or four hours of his life he did employ in the serious utterance of a very pithy discourse, whilst with a clear judgment and spirit void of all trouble he did foretell several important things, whereof a great deal is come to pass, and the rest we wait for. Howbeit, his prophecies did at that time seem unto us somewhat strange, absurd, and unlikely, because there did not then appear any sign of efficacy enough to engage our faith to the belief of what he did prognosticate. We have here, near to the town of Villomere, a man that is both old and a poet, to wit, Raminagrobis, who to his second wife espoused my Lady Broadsow, on whom he begot the fair Basoche. It hath been told me he is a-dying, and so near unto his latter end that he is almost upon the very last moment, point, and article thereof. Repair thither as fast as you can, and be ready to give an attentive ear to what he shall chant unto you. It may be that you shall obtain from him what you desire, and that Apollo will be pleased by his means to clear your scruples. I am content, quoth Panurge. Let us go thither, Epistemon, and that both instantly and in all haste, lest otherwise his death prevent our coming. Wilt thou come along with us, Friar John? Yes, that I will, quoth Friar John, right heartily to do thee a courtesy, my billy-ballocks; for I love thee with the best of my milt and liver.

Thereupon, incontinently, without any further lingering, to the way they all three went, and quickly thereafter — for they made good speed — arriving at the poetical habitation, they found the jolly old man, albeit in the agony of his departure from this world, looking cheerfully, with an open countenance, splendid aspect, and behaviour full of alacrity. After that Panurge had very civilly saluted him, he in a free gift did present him with a gold ring, which he even then put upon the medical finger of his left hand, in the collet or bezel whereof was enchased an Oriental sapphire, very fair and large. Then, in imitation of Socrates, did he make an oblation unto him of a fair white cock, which was no sooner set upon the tester of his bed, than that, with a high raised head and crest, lustily shaking his feather-coat, he crowed stentoriphonically loud. This done, Panurge very courteously required of him that he would vouchsafe to favour him with the grant and report of his sense and judgment touching the future destiny of his intended marriage. For answer hereto, when the honest old man had forthwith commanded pen, paper, and ink to be brought unto him, and that he was at the same call conveniently served with all the three, he wrote these following verses:

Take, or not take her,

Off, or on:

Handy-dandy is your lot.

When her name you write, you blot.

’Tis undone, when all is done,

Ended e’er it was begun:

Hardly gallop, if you trot,

Set not forward when you run,

Nor be single, though alone,

Take, or not take her.

Before you eat, begin to fast;

For what shall be was never past.

Say, unsay, gainsay, save your breath:

Then wish at once her life and death.

Take, or not take her.

These lines he gave out of his own hands unto them, saying unto them, Go, my lads, in peace! the great God of the highest heavens be your guardian and preserver! and do not offer any more to trouble or disquiet me with this or any other business whatsoever. I have this same very day, which is the last both of May and of me, with a greal deal of labour, toil, and difficulty, chased out of my house a rabble of filthy, unclean, and plaguily pestilentious rake-hells, black beasts, dusk, dun, white, ash-coloured, speckled, and a foul vermin of other hues, whose obtrusive importunity would not permit me to die at my own ease; for by fraudulent and deceitful pricklings, ravenous, harpy-like graspings, waspish stingings, and such-like unwelcome approaches, forged in the shop of I know not what kind of insatiabilities, they went about to withdraw and call me out of those sweet thoughts wherein I was already beginning to repose myself and acquiesce in the contemplation and vision, yea, almost in the very touch and taste of the happiness and felicity which the good God hath prepared for his faithful saints and elect in the other life and state of immortality. Turn out of their courses and eschew them, step forth of their ways and do not resemble them; meanwhile, let me be no more troubled by you, but leave me now in silence, I beseech you.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33