Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais


To the Honoured, Noble Translator of Rabelais.

Rabelais, whose wit prodigiously was made,

All men, professions, actions to invade,

With so much furious vigour, as if it

Had lived o’er each of them, and each had quit,

Yet with such happy sleight and careless skill,

As, like the serpent, doth with laughter kill,

So that although his noble leaves appear

Antic and Gottish, and dull souls forbear

To turn them o’er, lest they should only find

Nothing but savage monsters of a mind —

No shapen beauteous thoughts; yet when the wise

Seriously strip him of his wild disguise,

Melt down his dross, refine his massy ore,

And polish that which seem’d rough-cast before,

Search his deep sense, unveil his hidden mirth,

And make that fiery which before seem’d earth

(Conquering those things of highest consequence,

What’s difficult of language or of sense),

He will appear some noble table writ

In the old Egyptian hieroglyphic wit;

Where, though you monsters and grotescoes see,

You meet all mysteries of philosophy.

For he was wise and sovereignly bred

To know what mankind is, how ’t may be led:

He stoop’d unto them, like that wise man, who

Rid on a stick, when ‘s children would do so.

For we are easy sullen things, and must

Be laugh’d aright, and cheated into trust;

Whilst a black piece of phlegm, that lays about

Dull menaces, and terrifies the rout,

And cajoles it, with all its peevish strength

Piteously stretch’d and botch’d up into length,

Whilst the tired rabble sleepily obey

Such opiate talk, and snore away the day,

By all his noise as much their minds relieves,

As caterwauling of wild cats frights thieves.

But Rabelais was another thing, a man

Made up of all that art and nature can

Form from a fiery genius — he was one

Whose soul so universally was thrown

Through all the arts of life, who understood

Each stratagem by which we stray from good;

So that he best might solid virtue teach,

As some ‘gainst sins of their own bosoms preach:

He from wise choice did the true means prefer,

In fool’s coat acting th’ philosopher.

Thus hoary Aesop’s beasts did mildly tame

Fierce man, and moralize him into shame;

Thus brave romances, while they seem to lay

Great trains of lust, platonic love display;

Thus would old Sparta, if a seldom chance

Show’d a drunk slave, teach children temperance;

Thus did the later poets nobly bring

The scene to height, making the fool the king.

And, noble sir, you vigorously have trod

In this hard path, unknown, un-understood

By its own countrymen, ’tis you appear

Our full enjoyment which was our despair,

Scattering his mists, cheering his cynic frowns

(For radiant brightness now dark Rabelais crowns),

Leaving your brave heroic cares, which must

Make better mankind and embalm your dust,

So undeceiving us, that now we see

All wit in Gascon and in Cromarty,

Besides that Rabelais is convey’d to us,

And that our Scotland is not barbarous.

J. De la Salle.

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