On the lush green slope to the side
of Cimetière du Père-Lachaise
where the crumbling concrete
tombstones of Molière, Colette,
Hugo rest, I find myself seriously
Lost, wave down a solitary figure
to whom I plead,
“Sortie, s’il vous plaît, sortie,”
cobbled from the words for Please
(a must in every language)
and Exit, which I learned
riding the Metropolitain.
bobs his index finger down and up
and down again toward the earth,
like dipping his tea bag in hot water
to release the flavor of oolong.
PHOTO: Molière’s grave, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France. Photo by Karayuschij, used by permission.
NOTE: Molière, the stage name of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (1622-1673), was a French playwright, actor, and poet, widely regarded as one of the greatest writers in world literature. His works include comedies, farces, tragicomedies, comédie-ballets, and more. When Molière was 21, he abandoned his affluent social circle and pursued a career on the stage, where he spent the next thirty years of his life—and became a favorite among the populace. Under French law at the time of Molière’s death in 1673, actors were not allowed to be buried in sacred ground, as they were viewed as dangerous, immoral, and pagan. Molière’s widow, actress Armande Béjart, sent a plea to the King, Louis XIV, requesting a traditional burial for her spouse. The King made a formal request to the Archbishop of Paris, who authorized a nighttime burial, without ceremony, in the section of St. Joseph’s Cemetery reserved for unbaptized infants. During the French Revolution, in 1792, Molière’s remains were brought to the Museum of French Monuments, and in 1817 they were transferred to Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
IMAGE: Frontispiece and title page from the first volume of Moliere’s works translated into English printed by John Watts in 1739.
NOTE: Père Lachaise Cemetery, the largest cemetery in Paris, France, is visited by more than 3.5 million people each year. Established as a cemetery by Napoleon in 1804, it is named for the confessor to Louis XIV, Père François de la Chaise (1624–1709). Père Lachaise is still an operating cemetery, but will only accommodate individuals who die in Paris or have lived there. Many renowned people are buried in Père Lachaise.
PHOTO: Entrance to Père-Lachaise Cemetery, 16 Rue du Repos, 75020 Paris, France. Photo by Guilhem Vellut (2016) used by permission.