1858 - Voltaire At Ferney

Almost 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. Civilise.

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.

So, 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.

(W. H. Auden)


© José Pacheco Pereira
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