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Jean de La Fontaine Poems
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The Convent Gardener Of Lamporechio by Jean de La Fontaine
WHEN Cupid with his dart, would hearts assail,
The rampart most secure is not the VEIL;
A husband better will the FAIR protect,
Than walls or lattices, I much suspect.
Those parents, who in nunneries have got
Their daughters (whether willingly or not),
Most clearly in a glaring error prove,
To fancy God will round their actions move;
'Tis an abuse of what we hold divine;
The Devil with them surely must combine.
Besides, 'twere folly to suppose that vice
Ne'er entered convent walls, and nuns were ice.
A very diff'rent sentiment I hold:
Girls, who in publick move, however bold,
Have greater terrors lest they get a stain;
For, honour lost, they never fame regain.
Few enemies their modesty attack;
The others have but one their minds to rack.
TEMPTATION, daughter of the drowsy dame,
That hates to move, and IDLENESS we name,
Is ever practising each wily art,
To spread her snares around the throbbing heart;
And fond DESIRE, the child of lorn CONSTRAINT,
Is anxious to the soul soft scenes to paint.
If I've a worthy daughter made a nun,
Is that a reason she's a saint?--Mere fun!
Avaunt such folly!--three in four you'll find,
Of those who wear the veil--have changed their mind;
Their fingers bite, and often do much worse:
Those convent vows, full soon, become a curse;
Such things at least have sometimes reached my ear
(For doubtless I must speak from others here);
Of his Boccace a merry tale has told,
Which into rhyme I've put, as you'll behold.

WITHIN a nunnery, in days of yore,
A good old man supplied the garden-store;
The nuns, in general, were smart and gay,
And kept their tongues in motion through the day.
Religious duties they regarded less,
Than for the palour to be nice in dress
Arranging ev'ry article to please,
That each might captivate and charm at ease;
The changes constantly they rang around,
And made the convent-walls with din resound.
Eight sisters and an abbess held the place,
And strange to say--there DISCORD you might trace.
All nine had youth, and many beauty too:
Young friars round the place were oft in view,
Who reckoned ev'ry step they took so well,
That always in the proper road they fell.
Th' aged gard'ner, of whom ere now we spoke,
Was oft bewildered, they would so provoke;
Capricious, whimsical, from day to day,
Each would command and try to have her way;
And as they ne'er agreed among themselves,
He suffered more than if with fifty elves;
When one was pleased, another soon complained:
At length to quit the nuns he was constrained.
He left them, poor and wretched as he came;
No cross, pile, money:--e'en his coat the same.

A YOUTH of Lamporechio, gay and bold,
One day this gard'ner met as I am told;
And after conversation 'bout the place,
Said, he should like nun's service to embrace,
And that he wished sincerely to be hired:
He'd gratis do whatever was required.
'Twas clear indeed his object was not pelf;
He thought however he might reward himself;
And as the sisters were not over wise,
A nun he now and then might make his prize;
Proceed from one to more with like address,
Till with the whole he'd had complete success.
Said Nuto (such we find the gard'ner's name),
Believe me, friend, you will be much to blame;
Some other service seek, I recommend;
These convent-dames will ne'er their whimseys end.
I'd rather live without or soup or bread,
Than work for them, however nicely fed.

STRANGE creatures are these nuns, upon my word;
Their ways ridiculous and e'en absurd;
Who, with the sisterhood, has never been,
Has clearly yet, not perfect torment seen,
Such service, prithee, never try to gain;
To do what they require I know is vain;
One will have soft, and t'other asks for hard:
Thou'lt be a fool such ninnies to regard;
No work thou'lt do, whatever be the want:
THIS cabbages,--THAT carrots tells thee plant:
Said t'other, fain I'd bring it to the test;
I'm but a simpleton, it is confessed;
Yet still a month in place, and thou wilt see;
How well I with the convent-dames agree.
The reason is, my life is in its prime,
While thou art sunk in years and worn by time,
I'm proper for their work, and only ask,
To be admitted to the drudging task.
Well, said the former, if resolved to try,
To their factotum instantly apply;
Come; let's away. Lead on, the other cried;
I've got a thought, which I'll to you confide:--
I'll seem an idiot, and quite dumb appear.--
In that, said Nuto, only persevere,
And then perhaps the confessor thou'lt find,
With their factotum carelessly inclined;
No fears nor dark suspicions of a mute:
Thou'lt ev'ry way, my friend, their wishes suit.

THE place, as was expected, soon he got;
And half the grounds to trench, at once his lot:
He acted well the nincompoop and fool,
Yet still was steady to the garden tool;
The nuns continually would flock around,
And much amusement in his anticks found.

ONE day, as sleeping lay our sprightly wight,
Or feigning sleep, no matter which is right,
(Boccace pretends the latter was the fact)
Two nuns (perhaps not two the most exact,)
Observing him extended on the sward,
While summer's heat from air so much debarred;
That few would venture from the convent-roof,
Lest, 'gainst the sun, their cheeks should not be proof:
Said one, approaching him, let's take this fool,
And place him in the garden-house to cool.
The lad was handsome, with engaging mien:
The nun admired the features she had seen,
And Cupid raised a wish to be at ease,
Where she, without restraint, herself might please.
What would you, cried the other, with him do?
You'll see, rejoined the first, if we pursue;
Just what might be expected from the place;
Christ! said the second (with a cross of grace),
You would not surely do what is forbid?
Suppose increase? it never could be hid;
Besides, should we be seen, 'twill be the cause,
Of dire disgrace to break such sacred laws.

WE shall not be observed, the first replied;
These ills thy fancy forms: haste, let's decide,
And seize the moment while 'tis in our reach,
Without regard to what old dotards teach,
Or what may happen at a future hour;
Here's no one near: 'tis fully in our pow'r;
The time and place so thoroughly agree,
'Twill be impossible our freaks to see;
But 'twill be right that one should watch with care;
While t'other with the lad seeks joys to share,
And irksome gloom endeavours to dispel:
He's dumb, you know, and tales can never tell.
The other answered, since 'tis your desire,
I'll acquiesce and do what you require;
You'll take him first: I see it is your aim;
And since it will oblige, I'll wave my claim;
Go, pleasure seek, and satisfy each wish:
You're always anxious for a fav'rite dish;
'Tis only to oblige that I comply.
That, said the other, clearly I descry;
I'm well persuaded, thou art always kind;
But still I think thou would'st not be inclined;
In such a scene to take the leading part,
Thy bashfulness would counteract thy heart.

Some time the squeamish sister watched the spot;
At length the other, who'd her wishes got,
The station took; the lab'rer tried to please
The second as the first, but less at ease;
So many favours fell not to her share,
And only treble comfort proved her fare.

THE garden-path, and summer-house as well,
Were well remembered by each wanton belle;
No need of guides; and soon our spark contrived;
With sister Agnes also to be hived
A press-house at the convent end he chose,
in which he showed her how soft pleasure flows;
Nor Claudia nor Angelica would miss
The dormitory that, and cellar this;
In short the garret and the vaulted cave
Knew fully how the sisters could behave;
Not one but what he first or last regaled
E'en with the rigid abbess he prevailed,
To take a dance, and as the dame required
Her treble share of what was most admired,
The other nuns were oft obliged to fast,
While with the convent-head his time was passed.

To no restoratives our Wight would run;
Though these do little, where much work is done:
So oft the lad was pressed for cheering play,
That with the abbess, when engaged one day,
He said, where'er I go, 'tis common talk,
With only sev'n an able bird should walk,
Yet constantly I've got no less than nine:--
The abbess cried,--A miracle divine!
Here nuns, pray haste, and quickly come around;
We've fasted with success:--his tongue is found.
The eight encircled him with great surprise;
No longer dumb.--they viewed with eager eyes:
A consultation instantly was had,
When 'twas agreed to honour well the lad,
And try to make him secrecy observe;
But if dismissed, from silence he might swerve.
The active youth, well fed, well paid, thus blessed,
Did all he could,--and others did the rest.
He for the nuns procured a little lot,
That afterward two little friars got,
And in the sequel fathers soon became;
The sisters mothers too, in spite of shame;
But never name more justly was applied:
In vain their mysteries they strove to hide.
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