Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 58

A prophetical Riddle.

Poor mortals, who wait for a happy day,

Cheer up your hearts, and hear what I shall say:

If it be lawful firmly to believe

That the celestial bodies can us give

Wisdom to judge of things that are not yet;

Or if from heaven such wisdom we may get

As may with confidence make us discourse

Of years to come, their destiny and course;

I to my hearers give to understand

That this next winter, though it be at hand,

Yea and before, there shall appear a race

Of men who, loth to sit still in one place,

Shall boldly go before all people’s eyes,

Suborning men of divers qualities

To draw them unto covenants and sides,

In such a manner that, whate’er betides,

They’ll move you, if you give them ear, no doubt,

With both your friends and kindred to fall out.

They’ll make a vassal to gain-stand his lord,

And children their own parents; in a word,

All reverence shall then be banished,

No true respect to other shall be had.

They’ll say that every man should have his turn,

Both in his going forth and his return;

And hereupon there shall arise such woes,

Such jarrings, and confused to’s and fro’s,

That never were in history such coils

Set down as yet, such tumults and garboils.

Then shall you many gallant men see by

Valour stirr’d up, and youthful fervency,

Who, trusting too much in their hopeful time,

Live but a while, and perish in their prime.

Neither shall any, who this course shall run,

Leave off the race which he hath once begun,

Till they the heavens with noise by their contention

Have fill’d, and with their steps the earth’s dimension.

Then those shall have no less authority,

That have no faith, than those that will not lie;

For all shall be governed by a rude,

Base, ignorant, and foolish multitude;

The veriest lout of all shall be their judge,

O horrible and dangerous deluge!

Deluge I call it, and that for good reason,

For this shall be omitted in no season;

Nor shall the earth of this foul stir be free,

Till suddenly you in great store shall see

The waters issue out, with whose streams the

Most moderate of all shall moistened be,

And justly too; because they did not spare

The flocks of beasts that innocentest are,

But did their sinews and their bowels take,

Not to the gods a sacrifice to make,

But usually to serve themselves for sport:

And now consider, I do you exhort,

In such commotions so continual,

What rest can take the globe terrestrial?

Most happy then are they, that can it hold,

And use it carefully as precious gold,

By keeping it in gaol, whence it shall have

No help but him who being to it gave.

And to increase his mournful accident,

The sun, before it set in th’ occident,

Shall cease to dart upon it any light,

More than in an eclipse, or in the night —

So that at once its favour shall be gone,

And liberty with it be left alone.

And yet, before it come to ruin thus,

Its quaking shall be as impetuous

As Aetna’s was when Titan’s sons lay under,

And yield, when lost, a fearful sound like thunder.

Inarime did not more quickly move,

When Typheus did the vast huge hills remove,

And for despite into the sea them threw.

Thus shall it then be lost by ways not few,

And changed suddenly, when those that have it

To other men that after come shall leave it.

Then shall it be high time to cease from this

So long, so great, so tedious exercise;

For the great waters told you now by me,

Will make each think where his retreat shall be;

And yet, before that they be clean disperst,

You may behold in th’ air, where nought was erst,

The burning heat of a great flame to rise,

Lick up the water, and the enterprise.

It resteth after those things to declare,

That those shall sit content who chosen are,

With all good things, and with celestial man (ne,)

And richly recompensed every man:

The others at the last all stripp’d shall be,

That after this great work all men may see,

How each shall have his due. This is their lot;

O he is worthy praise that shrinketh not!

No sooner was this enigmatical monument read over, but Gargantua, fetching a very deep sigh, said unto those that stood by, It is not now only, I perceive, that people called to the faith of the gospel, and convinced with the certainty of evangelical truths, are persecuted. But happy is that man that shall not be scandalized, but shall always continue to the end in aiming at that mark which God by his dear Son hath set before us, without being distracted or diverted by his carnal affections and depraved nature.

The monk then said, What do you think in your conscience is meant and signified by this riddle? What? said Gargantua — the progress and carrying on of the divine truth. By St. Goderan, said the monk, that is not my exposition. It is the style of the prophet Merlin. Make upon it as many grave allegories and glosses as you will, and dote upon it you and the rest of the world as long as you please; for my part, I can conceive no other meaning in it but a description of a set at tennis in dark and obscure terms. The suborners of men are the makers of matches, which are commonly friends. After the two chases are made, he that was in the upper end of the tennis-court goeth out, and the other cometh in. They believe the first that saith the ball was over or under the line. The waters are the heats that the players take till they sweat again. The cords of the rackets are made of the guts of sheep or goats. The globe terrestrial is the tennis-ball. After playing, when the game is done, they refresh themselves before a clear fire, and change their shirts; and very willingly they make all good cheer, but most merrily those that have gained. And so, farewell!

End of Book I

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59