MOLIÈRE, with his deliberate eye and urbane
Pen, pierced the skull. In the tart elegance of his verse
As in a collector’s palm, lay man’s split, membranous brain.

What he said about avarice, affectation, death,
Was clad in such lucidity — it almost seemed
That there was little he intuitively discerned or even dreamed
Of that horrible whirlpool of disorder, man’s desire:
The retaliating nightmare, the dirty tears, the hissing breath —
To tell of these would demand a pen dipped not in ink but in fire!
And yet, he knew, he knew. And all those others knew as well.
Through the clipped and ordered park, the salon, the avenue,
They walked, rosy with the approaching glow and spectacle of hell.
Stricken already with a common and incurable disease,
Célimène, Alceste, Tartuffe, Sganarelle,
Tufted, colorful as idols, passed and bowed among the maple trees.
Rain fell on the statues, darkened the cathedrals; rain
Decade upon decade darkened the villas and the quais;
The maple trees and beech trees hung moping above the Seine.
The momentary perfection of a gesture held in its control
All the heat and squabble of mankind caught in an entertaining mood,
Pinning to a couplet the queer, wild spasms of the human soul:
Flawless, pathetic actors in an antiquated play,
They march through album upon album as through the darkness of a wood,
Bearing civilization like a mask from yesterday into today:
A civilization as marvelous and as far, far away
As that of Rameses. The intricately spun
Laws of reason lie burnished, like hieroglyphics, in the sun,
And whatever they illuminated, whatever they gave
Of poise and magnanimity in each successive wave,
Lie lost as wholly as Othello’s howl, or Dido’s echoing cave.