No Comment, Quotation — July 13, 2008, 7:22 am

Boileau – Nothing is Beautiful but the True


Rien n’est beau que le vrai : le vrai seul est aimable ;
Il doit régner partout, et même dans la fable :
De toute fiction l’adroite fausseté
Ne tend qu’à faire aux yeux briller la vérité.

Sais-tu pourquoi mes vers sont lus dans les provinces,
Sont recherchés du peuple, et reçus chez les princes ?
Ce n’est pas que leurs sons, agréables, nombreux,
Soient toujours à l’oreille également heureux ;
Qu’en plus d’un lieu le sens n’y gêne la mesure,
Et qu’un mot quelquefois n’y brave la césure :
Mais c’est qu’en eux le vrai, du mensonge vainqueur,
Partout se montre aux yeux et va saisir le cœur ;
Que le bien et le mal y sont prisés au juste ;
Quejamais un faquin n’y tint un rang auguste ;
Et que mon cœur, toujours conduisant mon esprit,
Ne dit rien aux lecteurs qu’à soi-même il n’ait dit.
Ma pensée au grand jour partout s’offre et s’expose,
Et mon vers, bien ou mal, dit toujours quelque chose.

Nothing is beautiful but the true: the true alone is agreeable;
It must reign everywhere, even in the fable:
The well-turned falsity of all fiction
Serves only to make the truth more readily seen.

Do you know why they read my verses in the countryside?
Why do the people seek them out, indeed, even princes?
It is not simply that they varied and are pleasing to the ear,
Nor because a word occasionally defies the measure:
Rather it is because in them the true vanquishes the false,
Shines through them all and lays hold the heart;
It is because the good and evil are taken in correct measure;
Because never does a scoundrel receive an august position;
And because my heart, always leading my mind,
Says nothing to the readers that it has not already said to itself.
My thought offers and presents itself clearly,
And my verse, good or bad, always has something to say.

Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux, Épître IX (1695) in Œuvres, vol. 11, pp. 111-12 (St Surin ed. 1821)(S.H. transl.)

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