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Jean de La Fontaine Poems
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Neighbour Peter's Mare by Jean de La Fontaine
A CERTAIN pious rector (John his name),
But little preached, except when vintage came;
And then no preparation he required
On this he triumphed and was much admired.
Another point he handled very well,
Though oft'ner he'd thereon have liked to dwell,
And this the children of the present day,
So fully know, there's naught for me to say:
John to the senses things so clearly brought,
That much by wives and husbands he was sought,
Who held his knowledge of superior price,
And paid attention to his sage advice.
Around, whatever conscience he might find,
To soft delights and easy ways inclined,
In person he would rigidly attend,
And seek to act the confessor and friend;
Not e'en his curate would he trust with these;
But zealously he tried to give them ease,
And ev'ry where would due attention show,
Observing that divines should always know
Their flocks most thoroughly and visit round;
To give instruction and the truth expound.

AMONG the folks, to whom he visits paid,
Was neighbour Peter, one who used the spade;
A villager that God, in lieu of lands,
Had furnished only with a pair of hands,
To dig and delve, and by the mattock gain
Enough his wife and children to maintain.
Still youthful charms you in his spouse might trace;
The weather injured solely had her face,
But not the features which were perfect yet:
Some wish perhaps more blooming belles to get;
The rustick truly me would ne'er have pleased;
But such are oft by country parsons seized,
Who low amours and dishes coarse admire,
That palates more refined would not desire.

THE pastor John would often on her leer,
just as a cur, when store of bones are near,
That would good pickings for his teeth afford,
Attentively behold the precious hoard,
And seem uneasy; move his feet and tail;
Now prick his ears; then fear he can't prevail,
The eyes still fixed upon the bite in sight,
Which twenty times to these affords delight,
Ere to his longing jaws the boon arrives,
However anxiously the suitor strives.

SELF-TORMENTS solely parson John obtained;
By seeing her that o'er his senses reigned.
The village-wife was innocent of this,
And never dreamed of any thing amiss;
The pastor's mystick looks, nor flatt'ring ways;
Nor presents, aught in Magdalene could raise;
But nosegays made of thyme, and marj'ram too,
Were dropt on ground, or never kept in view;
A hundred little cares appeared as naught
'Twas Welch to her, and ne'er conveyed a thought.
A pleasant stratagem he now contrived,
From which, he hoped, success might be derived.

MOST clearly Peter was a heavy lout,
Yet truly I could never have a doubt,
That rashly he would ne'er himself commit,
Though folly 'twere from him to look for wit,
Or aught expect by questioning to find
'Yond this to reason, he was not designed.

THE rector to him said, thou'rt poor, my friend,
And hast not half enough for food to spend,
With other things that necessary prove,
If we below with comfort wish to move.
Some day I'll show thee how thou may'st procure
The means that will thy happiness insure,
And make thee feel contented as a king.
To me what present for it wilt thou bring?

ZOOKS! Peter answered, parson, I desire,
You'll me direct to do as you require;
My labour pray command; 'tis all I've got;
Our pig howe'er to you we can allot,
We want it not; and truly it has eat
More bran than thrice this vessel would complete;
The cow you'll take besides, from which my wife
A calf expects, to raise the means of life.
No, no, the pastor with a smile replied,
A recompense for this thou'lt not provide;
My neighbour to oblige is all I heed;
And now I'll tell thee how thou must proceed;
Thy spouse, by magick, I'll transform each day,
And turn her to a mare for cart or dray,
And then again restore her ev'ry night,
To human form to give thy heart delight.
From this to thee great profit will arise;
Thy ass, so slow is found, that when supplies,
It carries to the market, 'tis so late,
The hour is almost past ere at the gate,
And then thy cabbages, and herbs, and roots,
Provisions, provender, and wares and fruits,
Remain unsold, and home to spoil are brought,
Since rarely far from thence such things are sought.
But when thy wife's a mare, she'll faster go:
Strong, active, ev'ry way her worth she'll show,
And home will come without expense in meat:
No soup nor bread, but solely herbs she'll eat:

SAID Peter, parson, clearly you are wise;
From learning, what advantages arise!
Is this pray sold?--If I'd much money got,
To make the purchase I'd the cash allot.

CONTINUED John:--now I will thee instruct,
The proper manner, matters to conduct,
For thee to have a clever mare by day,
And still at night a charming wife survey;
Face, legs, and ev'ry thing shall reappear;
Come, see it done, and I'll perform it here;
Thou'lt then the method fully comprehend;
But hold thy tongue, or all will quickly end:
A single word the magick would dispel,
And, during life, no more with us 'twould dwell.
Keep close thy mouth and merely ope' thy eyes:
A glimpse alone to learn it will suffice;
This o'er, thyself shall practise it the same,
And all will follow as when first it came.

THE husband promised he would hold his tongue;
And John disliked deferring matters long.
Come, Magdalene, said he, you will undress;
To quit those Sunday-clothes, you'll acquiesce,
And put yourself in Nature's pure array
Well, well, proceed; with stays and sleeves away;
That's better still; now petticoats lay by;
How nicely with my orders you comply.

WHEN Magdalene was to the linen come,
Some marks of shame around her senses swum;
A wife to live and die was her desire,
Much rather than be seen in Eve's attire;
She vowed that, spite of what the priest disclosed;
She never would consent to be exposed.

SAID Peter, pretty work, upon my truth:--
Not let us see how you are made forsooth!
What silly scruples!--Are they in your creed?
You were not always led such scenes to heed:
Pray how d'ye manage when for fleas you seek?
'Tis strange, good sir, that she should be so weak;
What can you fear?--'tis folly time to waste;
He will not eat you: come, I say, make haste:
Have done with haggling; had you acted right,
Ere now the parson all had finished quite.

ON saying this, her garment off he took;
Put on his spectacles to overlook;
And parson John, without delay, began;
Said he (as o'er her person now he ran),
This part umbilical will make the mare
A noble breast, and strength at once declare:
Then further on the pastor placed his hand,
While, with the other, (as a magick wand,)
He set about transforming mounts of snow;
That in our climes a genial warmth bestow,
And semi-globes are called, while those that rise
In t'other hemisphere, of larger size,
Are seldom mentioned, through respect no doubt,
But these howe'er the parson, quite devout,
Would not neglect, and whatsoe'er he felt,
He always named, and on its beauties dwelt;
The ceremony this, it seems, required,
And fully ev'ry movement John admired.

PROCEEDINGS so minute gave Peter pain,
And as he could not see the rector gain
The slightest change, he prayed the pow'rs divine,
To give assistance to the priest's design;
But this was vain, since all the magick spell,
In metamorphosing the lady well,
Depended on the fixing of the tail;
Without this ornament the whole would fail.

To set it on the parson hastened now,
When Neighbour Peter 'gan to knit his brow,
And bawled so loud, you might have heard him far:
No tail, said he, I'll have: there'll be a scar;
You put it on too low; but vain his cries,
The husband's diligence would not suffice,
For, spite of ev'ry effort, much was done,
And John completely his career had run,
If Peter had not pulled the rector's gown,
Who hastily replied, thou ninny, clown;
Did I not tell thee silence to observe,
And not a footstep from thy station swerve?
The whole is spoiled, insufferable elf!
And for it thou hast got to thank thyself.

THE husband, while the holy pastor spoke,
Appeared to grumble and his stars invoke.
The wife was in a rage, and 'gan to scold:
Said she to Peter, wretch that I behold!
Thou'lt be through life a prey to pain and grief,
Come not to me and bray and hope relief,
The worthy pastor would have us procured
The means that might much comfort have ensured.
Can he deserve such treatment to receive?
Good Mister John this goose I now would leave,
And ev'ry morning, while he gathers fruits,
Or plants, herbs, cabbages, and various roots,
Without averting him, pray, here repair,
You'll soon transform me to a charming mare.

No mare, replied the husband, I desire;
An ass for me is all that I require.
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