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Jean de La Fontaine Poems
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The Cradle by Jean de La Fontaine
NEAR Rome, of yore, close to the Florence road,
Was seen a humble innkeeper's abode;
Small sums were charged; few guests the night would stay;
And these could seldom much afford to pay.
A pleasing active partner had the host
Her age not much 'bove thirty at the most;
Two children she her loving husband bore;
The boy was one year old: the daughter more;
Just fifteen summers o'er her form had smiled;
In person charming, and in temper mild.

IT happened that Pinucio, young and gay,
A youth of family, oft passed the way,
Admired the girl, and thought she might be gained,
Attentions showed, and like return obtained;
The mistress was not deaf, nor lover mute;
Pinucio seemed the lady's taste to suit,
Of pleasing person and engaging air;
And 'mong the equals of our youthful fair,
As yet, not one a pref'rence had received;
Nor had she e'er in golden dreams believed;
But, spite of tender years, her mind was high,
And village lads she would not let come nigh.

COLUTTA, (such her name,) though much admired;
And many in the place her hand desired,
Rejected some, and others would not take,
And this most clearly for Pinucio's sake.
Long conversations she could rarely get,
And various obstacles the lovers met;
No interviews where they might be at ease,
But ev'ry thing conspired to fret and teaze.
O parents, husbands! be advised by me;
Constraint with wives or children won't agree;
'Tis then the god of love exerts his art,
To find admittance to the throbbing heart.

PINUCIO and a friend, one stormy night,
The landlord's reached and would in haste alight;
They asked for beds, but were too late they found:
You know, sir, cried the host, we don't abound;
And now the very garrets we have let:
You'd better elsewhere try your wish to get,
And spite of weather, further on pursue
At best, our lodging is unfit for you.

HAVE you no truckle bed? the lover cried;
No corner left?--we fain would here abide:
Why, truly, said the host, we always keep
Two beds within the chamber where we sleep;
My wife and I, of course, take one of these;
Together lie in t'other if you please.
The spark replied, this we will gladly do;
Come, supper get; that o'er, the friends withdrew:
Pinucio, by Coletta's sage advice,
In looking o'er the room was very nice;
With eagle-eyes particulars he traced,
Then 'tween the clothes himself and friend he placed.
A camp-bed for the girl was on the floor;
The landlord's, 'gainst the wall and next the door;
Another opposite the last was set,
And this, to guests, at certain times was let;
And 'tween the two, but near the parents' best,
A cradle for the child to rest its head,
From which a pleasant accident arrived,
That our gallant's young friend of rest deprived.

WHEN midnight came, and this gay spark supposed
The host and hostess' eyes in sleep were closed,
Convinced the time appointed was at hand,
To put in execution what was planned,
He to the camp-bed silently repaired,
And found the belle by Morpheus not insnared;
Coletta taught a play that mortals find
Fatigues the body more than plagues the mind:
A truce succeeded, but 'twas quickly o'er:
Those rest not long who pilfer Cupid's store.

AGAIN, when to the room the hostess came,
And found the cradle rested not the same,
Good heav'ns! cried she, it joins my husband's head:
And, but for that, I truly had been led
To lay myself unthinkingly beside
The strangers whom with lodging we provide;
But, God be praised, this cradle shows the place
Where my good husband's pillow I must trace.
This said, she with the friend was quickly laid,
Without suspecting what mistake she'd made.

BETWEEN the lovers all was blithe and gay,
When suddenly the friend, though far from day,
Was forced to rise ('twas plain a pressing case,)
And move the infant's cradle from its place,
To ope the door, and lest he noise might make,
Or any way by chance the child should wake,
He set it carefully beside his bed,
And (softly treading) to the garden sped.

ON his return he passed the cradle by;
To place it as before he would not try,
But went to sleep; when presently a sound,
From something that had tumbled, rang around,
Awoke his wife, who ran below,
That what had happened she might clearly know.
No fool in such adventures was our Wight:
The opportunity he would not slight,
But played the husband well: no, no, I'm wrong;
He played it ill:--too oft, too much, too long;
For whosoe'er would wish to do it well,
Should softly go:--the gentle most excel.

IN truth, the wife was quite surprised to find
Her spouse so much to frolicking inclined;
Said she, what ails the man, he's grown so gay?
A lad of twenty's not more fond of play.
Well! let's enjoy the moments while we can;
God's will be done, since life is but a span!

THE words were scarcely said, when our gallant
Renewed his fun, and nothing seemed to want;
Indeed, the hostess still her charms possessed,
And, on occasion, well might be caressed.

MEANWHILE Coletta, dreading a surprise,
Prevailed upon her paramour to rise;
'Twas nearly break of day when he withdrew,
But, groping to his place the way anew,
Pinucio, by the cradle too, was led
To miss his friend's and take the landlord's bed.
No sooner in than with an under voice,
(Intriguers oft too eagerly rejoice,)
Said he, my friend, I wish I could relate
The pleasure I've received; my bliss is great;
To you, I'm sorry, Fortune proves so cold;
Like happiness I'd fain in you behold;
Coletta is a morsel for a king;
Inestimable girl!--to me she'll cling.
I've many seen, but such a charming fair,
There's not another like her any where.

WITH softest skin, delightful form and mien;
Her ev'ry act resembles BEAUTY's queen;
In short, before we'd ended with our fun,
Six posts (without a fiction) we had run.
The host was struck with what the spark averred,
And muttered something indistinctly heard.

THE hostess whispered HIM she thought her spouse:--
Again, my dear, such sparks let's never house;
Pray don't you hear how they together chat?--
Just then the husband raised himself and sat;
Is this your plan? said he with mighty rage;
Was it for THIS you would my house engage?
You understand me, but I'll seek redress;
Think you so very cheap to have success?
What, would you ruin families at will,
And with our daughters take at ease your fill?
Away, I say! my house this moment quit;
And as for You, abominable chit,
I'll have your life: this hour you breathe your last;
Such creatures only can with beasts be classed.

PINUCIO heard the lecture with dismay,
At once was mute, and grew as cold as clay;
A moment's silence through the room prevailed;
Coletta trembled, and her lot bewailed.
The hostess now, on ev'ry side perceived
Her peril great, and for the error grieved.
The friend, howe'er, the cradle called to mind,
Which caused the many ills we've seen combined,
And instantly he cried:--Pinucio! strange
You thus allow yourself about to range;
Did I not tell you when the wine you took,
'Twould make many sad misfortunes hook?
Whene'er you freely drink, 'tis known fall well,
Your sleep's disturbed, you walk, and nonsense tell.
Come, come to bed: the morning soon will peep;
Pinucio took the hint, pretended sleep,
And carried on so artfully the wile,
The husband no suspicion had of guile.
The stratagem our hostess likewise tried,
And to her daughter's bed in silence hied,
Where she conceived her fortress was so strong,
She presently began to use her tongue,
And cried aloud:--Impossible the fact;
Such things he could not with Coletta act;
I've with her been in bed throughout the night,
And she, no more than I, has swerved from right;
'Twere mighty pretty, truly, here to come;
At this the host a little while was dumb;
But in a lower tone at length replied
I nought with your account I'm satisfied.

THE party rose; the titter circled round;
And each sufficient reason for it found;
The whole was secret, and whoe'er had gained,
With care upon the subject mute remained.
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