The Poet's Princess

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Making of a poet

“Life is never rosy. But why should mine be as black as the ace of spades?” Moans the poet.

“Cheer up, Jean-François! Complaining won‘t help. Lethargy is poison to your playful mind. Accept that your godfather was mistaken banking on this crank. Manage on your own or you’ll be living on stale bread and water forever. Don’t lose your nerve. Reconsider your situation. Prove that even a poet may have a practical mind.

First we have to find a way to the Court. There lies the key to success. You haven’t come to Paris empty-handed. You have brought your poems with you. Maybe you aren’t what one would call a genius. But you are without any doubt as good as Vincent Voiture, that son of a wine-merchant, acclaimed as the raising star. I can’t fathom how he could manage to gain the favours of the Court. He’s so unattractive! And his poetry is second-rate! To crown it, he’s such an oaf! At a reception at the Marchioness de Rambouillet he pulled out his filthy handkerchief and began to clean his slimy buckteeth! Ghastly, don’t you think?

Another time, he took his grubby shoes off in front of Madame the Marchioness and pushed them towards the hearth, right under her refined nose. The Marchioness didn’t turn a hair. Being a true lady, she overlooked his lack of manners. Following her example, her guests pretended not to notice.

How could a boar like him gain his privileges? Having pondered this enigma, I think I have found a clue. Jean-François! Are you listening at all? Beware of relying too much on your pretty little face! The Court is teeming with handsome young men who never miss a trick when it comes to making themselves sought after. Stop daydreaming and listen to me well!

Voiture’s success is based upon a few subtleties:

a} he moulds his poetry according to the taste of the courtiers, never overrating their mental capacities. Every line he writes is comfortably understood, hence easily accepted.

b} he builds his fame upon the vanity of his public. How does he do it? Never forgetting to ask for the help and approval of the courtiers, he concocts a couple of new words and immediately puts them at their disposal. His next step is to invite the courtiers to use these words in a new turn of phrase, so peculiar and repugnant to any sane mind that they shall keep it to themselves. That’s very clever. That way he lets his playmates feel that they are the only ones clued in. Eventually, with an enticing smile, promising the spoils of Paradise, he makes them to amateur-poets. Thus he is certain that, while fighting presumably for themselves, they will toil for him and assure his fame. Having accomplished the metamorphosis of his public into his accomplices he may rely on a devoted clique and shall stride triumphantly towards fame.

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