Texts to live by

In the Je suis Charlie discussion, Nick Ord posted the prose poem Desiderata by Max Ehrmann.

On the assumption that most SFN members are francophiles, I wondered if we could think of examples of French texts which might also provide some sort of guide to live by, recognising that French literature has plenty of examples of the contrary from Laclos to Houellebecq.

How about this from Hugo's L'Art d'étre Grandpère. It may be more suitable for those of a certain age (which may include some SFN members!) rather than the young. (Jeanne in the last line is his young granddaughter):

Grand âge et bas âge mêlés.


Mon âme est faite ainsi que jamais ni l'idée,
Ni l'homme, quels qu'ils soient, ne l'ont intimidée ;
Toujours mon cœur, qui n'a ni bible ni Coran,
Dédaigna le sophiste et brava le tyran ;
Je suis sans épouvante étant sans convoitise ;
La peur ne m'éteint pas et l'honneur seul m'attise ;
J'ai l'ankylose altière et lourde du rocher ;
Il est fort malaisé de me faire marcher
Par désir en avant ou par crainte en arrière ;
Je résiste à la force et cède à la prière,
Mais les biens d'ici-bas font sur moi peu d'effet ;
Et je déclare, amis, que je suis satisfait,
Que mon ambition suprême est assouvie,
Que je me reconnais payé dans cette vie,
Et que les dieux cléments ont comblé tous mes veux.
Tant que sur cette terre, où vraiment je ne veux
Ni socle olympien, ni colonne trajane,
On ne m'ôtera pas le sourire de Jeanne.

Here's a man who always had a one-liner for any circumstances :

“No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. If you buy the ticket, you take the ride...and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well...maybe chalk it off to forced conscious expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.”
Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Like Nick, I love the Desiderata. It has been around in my life since the great days of the 1960s when it became high fashion. However, I also very much like George Herbert's Peace. It is a lyric poem in the form of an allegory. The poem focuses on a religious theme. It was first published in 1633, the year Herbert died, in a collection of his poems entitled The Temple: Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations. I read it a secular prayer which the allegory actually allows.

Sweet Peace, where dost thou dwell? I humbly crave,
Let me once know.
I sought thee in a secret cave,
And ask'd, if Peace were there,
A hollow wind did seem to answer, "No:
Go seek elsewhere."

I did; and going did a rainbow note:
"Surely," thought I,
"This is the lace of Peace's coat;
I will search out the matter."
But while I looked the clouds immediately
Did break and scatter.

Then went I to a garden and did spy
A gallant flower,
The crown-imperial: "Sure," said I,
"Peace at the root must dwell."
But when I digged, I saw a worm devour
What showed so well.

At length I met a rev'rend good old man;
Whom when for Peace
I did demand, he thus began:
"There was a Prince of old
At Salem dwelt, who lived with good increase
Of flock and fold.

"He sweetly lived; yet sweetness did not save
His life from foes.
But after death out of his grave
There sprang twelve stalks of wheat;
Which many wond'ring at, got some of those
To plant and set.

"It prospered strangely, and did soon disperse
Through all the earth:
For they that taste it do rehearse
That virtue lies therein;
A secret virtue, bringing peace and mirth
By flight of sin.

Take of this grain, which in my garden grows,
And grows for you;
Make bread of it: and that repose
And peace, which ev'ry where
With so much earnestness you do pursue,
Is only there."