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Jean de La Fontaine Poems
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The Hermit by Jean de La Fontaine
WHEN Venus and Hypocrisy combine,
Oft pranks are played that show a deep design;
Men are but men, and friars full as weak:
I'm not by Envy moved these truths to speak.
Have you a sister, daughter, pretty wife?
Beware the monks as you would guard your life;
If in their snares a simple belle be caught:
The trap succeeds: to ruin she is brought.
To show that monks are knaves in Virtue's mask;
Pray read my tale:--no other proof I ask.

A HERMIT, full of youth, was thought around,
A saint, and worthy of the legend found.
The holy man a knotted cincture wore;
But, 'neath his garb:--heart-rotten to the core.
A chaplet from his twisted girdle hung,
Of size extreme, and regularly strung,
On t'other side was worn a little bell;
The hypocrite in ALL, he acted well;
And if a female near his cell appeared,
He'd keep within as if the sex he feared,
With downcast eyes and looks of woe complete,
You'd ne'er suppose that butter he could eat.

NOT far from where the hermit's cell was placed,
Within a village dwelled a widow chaste;
Her residence was at the further end
And all her store--a daughter as a friend,
Who candour, youth, and charms supreme possessed;
And still a virgin lived, howe'er distressed.
Though if the real truth perhaps we name,
'Twas more simplicity than virtuous aim;
Not much of industry, but honest heart;
No wealth, nor lovers, who might hope impart.
In Adam's days, when all with clothes were born,
She doubtless might like finery have worn;
A house was furnished then without expense;
For sheets or mattresses you'd no pretence;
Not e'en a bed was necessary thought
No blankets, pillowbiers, nor quilts were bought.
Those times are o'er; then Hymen came alone;
But now a lawyer in his train is shown.

OUR anchorite, in begging through the place;
This girl beheld,--but not with eyes of grace.
Said he, she'll do, and, if thou manag'st right,
Lucius, at times, with her to pass the night.
No time he lost, his wishes to secure:
The means, we may suppose, not over pure.

QUITE near the open fields they lived, I've said;
An humble, boarded cottage o'er their head.
One charming night--no, I mistake 'tis plain,
Our hermit, favoured much by wind and rain,
Pierced in the boarding, where by time 'twas worn;
A hole through which he introduced a horn;
And loudly bawled:--attend to what I say,
Ye women, my commands at once obey.
This voice spread terror through the little cot;
Both hid their heads and trembled for their lot;
But still our monk his horn would sound aloud
Awake! cried he; your favour God has vowed;
My faithful servant, Lucius, haste to seek;
At early dawn go find this hermit meek
To no one say a word: 'tis Heav'n ordains;
Fear nothing, Lucius ever blessed remains;
I'll show the way myself: your daughter place,
Good widow, with this holy man of grace;
And from their intercourse a pope shall spring,
Who back to virtue christendom will bring.

HE spoke to them so very loud and clear,
They heard, though 'neath the clothes half dead with fear.
Some time howe'er the females lay in dread;
At length the daughter ventured out her head,
And, pulling hastily her parent's arm,
Said she, dear mother, (not suspecting harm)
Good Heav'ns! must I obey and thither go?
What would the holy man on me bestow?
I know not what to say nor how to act;
Now cousin Anne would with him be exact,
And better recollect his sage advice:--
Fool! said the mother, never be so nice;
Go, nothing fear, and do whate'er's desired;
Much understanding will not be required;
The first or second time thou'lt get thy cue,
And cousin Anne will less know what to do.
Indeed? the girl replied; well, let's away,
And we'll return to bed without delay.
But softly, cried the mother with a smile;
Not quite so fast, for Satan may beguile;
And if 'twere so, hast taken proper care?
I think he spoke like one who would ensnare.
To be precipitate, in such a case,
Perhaps might lead at once to dire disgrace.
If thou wert terrified and did'st not hear,
Myself I'm sure was quite o'ercome with fear.
No, no, rejoined the daughter, I am right:
I clearly heard, dear mother, spite of fright.
Well then, replied the widow, let us pray,
That we by Satan be not led astray.

AT length they both arose when morning came,
And through the day the converse was the same.
At night howe'er the horn was heard once more,
And terrified the females as before.
Thou unbelieving woman, cried the voice,
For certain purposes of God the choice;
No more delay, but to the hermit fly,
Or 'tis decreed that thou shalt quickly die.
Now, mother, said the girl, I told you well;
Come, let us hasten to the hermit's cell;
So much I dread your death, I'll nothing shun;
And if 'tis requisite, I'll even run.
Away then, cried the mother, let us go;
Some pains to dress, the daughter would bestow,
Without reflecting what might be her fare:--
To PLEASE is ev'ry blooming lass's care.

OUR monk was on the watch you may suppose;
A hole he made that would a glimpse disclose;
By which, when near his cell the females drew,
They might, with whip in hand the hermit view,
Who, like a culprit punished for his crimes,
Received the lash, and that so many times,
It sounded like the discipline of schools,
And made more noise than flogging fifty fools.

WHEN first our pilgrims knocked, he would not hear;
And, for the moment, whipping would appear;
The holy lash severely he applied,
Which, through the hole, with pain our females spied;
At length the door he ope'd, but from his eyes
No satisfaction beamed: he showed surprise.
With trembling knees and blushes o'er the face,
The widow now explained the mystick case.
Six steps behind, the beauteous daughter stood,
And waited the decree she thought so good.
The hypocrite howe'er the hermit played,
And sent these humble pilgrims back dismayed.
Said he, the evil spirit much I dread;
No female to my cell should e'er be led;
Excuse me then: such acts would sorrow bring;
From me the HOLY FATHER ne'er spring.
What ne'er from you? the widow straight replied:
And why should not the blessing, pray, be tried?
No other answer howsoe'er she got;
So back they trudged once more to gain their cot.
Ah! mother, said the girl, 'tis my belief,
Our many heavy sins have caused thus grief.

WHEN night arrived and they in sleep were lost,
Again the hermit's horn the woodwork crossed;
Return, return, cried he with horrid tone;
To-morrow you'll have due attention shown;
I've changed the hermit's cold fastidious mind,
And when you come, he'll act as I've designed.

THE couple left their bed at break of day,
And to the cell repaired without delay
Our tale to shorten, Lucius kind appeared
To rigid rules no longer he adhered.
The mother with him let her girl remain,
And hastened to her humble roof again.
The belle complying looked:--he took her arm,
And soon familiar grew with ev'ry charm.

O HYPOCRITES! how oft your wily art
Deceives the world and causes poignant smart.

AT matins they so very often met,
Some awkward indications caused regret.
The fair at length her apron-string perceived
Grew daily shorter, which her bosom grieved;
But nothing to the hermit she'd unfold,
Nor e'en those feelings to her mother told;
She dreaded lest she should be sent away,
And be deprived at once of Cupid's play.
You'll tell me whence so much discernment came?
From this same play:--the tree of art by name.
For sev'n long months the nymph her visits paid;
Her inexperience doubtless wanted aid.

BUT when the mother saw her daughter's case,
She made her thank the monk, and leave the place.
The hermit blessed the Lord for what was done;
A pleasant course his humble slave had run.
He told the mother and her daughter fair,
The child, by God's permission, gifts would share.
Howe'er, be careful, said the wily wight,
That with your infant ev'ry thing goes right;
To you, from thence, great happiness will spring:
You'll reign the parent of what's more than king;
Your relatives to noble rank will rise:
Some will be princes; others lords comprise;
Your nephews cardinals; your cousins too
Will dukes become, if they the truth pursue;
And places, castles, palaces, there'll be,
For you and them of every high degree;
You'll nothing want: eternal is the source,
Like waters flowing in the river's course.
This long prediction o'er: with features grave,
His benediction to them both he gave.

WHEN home returned, the girl, each day and night,
Amused her mind with prospects of delight;
By fancy's aid she saw the future pope,
And all prepared to greet her fondest hope;
But what arrived the whole at once o'erthrew
Hats, dukedoms, castles, vanished from the view:
The promised elevation of the NAME
Dissolved to air:-a little female came!
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