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Jean de La Fontaine Poems
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The Spectacles by Jean de La Fontaine
I LATELY vowed to leave the nuns alone,
So oft their freaks have in my page been shown.
The subject may at length fatigue the mind;
My Muse the veil howe'er is still inclined,
Conspicuously to hold to publick view,
And, 'mong the sisters, scene and scene pursue.
Is this too much?--the nicest tricks they play;
Through soft amours oft artfully they stray,
And these in full I'd readily detail,
If I were sure the subject would not fail;
And that's impossible I must admit,
'Twould endless be, the tales appear so fit;
There's not a clerk so expeditious found,
Who could record the stories known around.
The sisters to forget, were I to try,
Suspicions might arise that, by and by,
I should return: some case might tempt my pen;
So oft I've overrun the convent-den,
Like one who always makes, from time to time,
The conversation with his feelings chime.
But let us to an end the subject bring,
And after this, of other matters sing.

IN former times was introduced a lad
Among the nuns, and like a maiden clad;
A charming girl by all he was believed;
Fifteen his age; no doubts were then conceived;
Coletta was the name the youth had brought,
And, till he got a beard, was sister thought.

THE period howsoe'er was well employed,
And from it Agnes profit had enjoyed;
What profit?--truly better had I said,
That sister Agnes by him was misled,
And store of ills received; misfortune dire
Obliged the nun more girdle to require,
And ultimately to produce (in spite
Of ev'ry wish to guard the fact from light)
A little creature that our hist'ries say,
Was found Coletta's features to display.

GREAT scandal quickly through the convent ran:
How could this child arrive?--the sisters 'gan
To laugh and ask, if in an evil hour,
The mushroom could have fallen with a show'r?
Or self-created was it not supposed?
Much rage the abbess presently disclosed;
To have her holy mansion thus disgraced!
Forthwith the culprit was in prison placed.

THE father to discover next they tried;
How could he enter, pass, escape, or hide;
The walls were high; the grate was double too;
Quite small the turning-box appeared to view,
And she who managed it was very old:--
Perhaps some youthful spark has been so bold,
Cried she who was superior to the rest,
To get admitted, like a maiden dressed,
And 'mong our flock (if rightly I surmise)
A wicked wolf is lurking in disguise.
Undress, I say, I'll verify the fact;
No other way remains for me to act.

THE lad disguised was terrified to death;
Each plan was dissipated with a breath;
The more he thought of means from thence to get,
The greater were the obstacles he met.
At length NECESSITY (the parent found
Of stratagems and wiles, so much renowned,)
Induced the youth . . . (I scarcely can proceed)
To tie . . . expression here I clearly need;
What word will decently express the thought?
What book has got it?--where should it be sought?
You've heard, in days of yore that human kind,
With windows in their bosoms were designed,
Through which 'twas easy all within to see,
And suited those of medical degree.

BUT if these windows useful were believed;
'Twas inconvenient in the heart perceived,
And women thoroughly disliked the scheme:--
They could not find the means to hide a dream.
Dame Nature howsoe'er contrived a plan:--
One lace she gave the woman, one the man,
Of equal length, and each enough no doubt,
By proper care to shut the ope throughout.
The woman much too thick her eyelets placed;
And consequently, ne'er was closely laced;
The fault was all her own: herself the cause;
The man as little merited applause,
For coarsely working, soon the hole was shut,
From which the remnant lace was left to jut;
In fact, on either side, whate'er was done,
The laces never equally would run,
And we are told, both sexes acted wrong:
The woman's was too short; the man's too long.

FROM this 'tis easy, it should seem to guess:
What by the youth was tied in this distress
The end of lace that by the men was left,
When nature ordered them to close the cleft:
With thread he fastened it so very well,
That all was flat as any nun or belle;
But thread or silk, you cannot find a string
To hold, what soon I fear will give a spring,
And get away, in spite of all you do;
Bring saints or angels such a scene to view,
As twenty nuns in similar array,
Strange creatures I should think them:--merely clay,
If they should at the sight unmoved remain;
I speak of nuns, howe'er, whose charms maintain
Superior rank, and like the Graces seem,
Delightful sisters! ev'ry way supreme.

THE prioress, this secret to disclose,
Appeared with spectacles upon her nose;
And twenty nuns around a dress displayed;
That convent mantua-makers never made,
Imagine to yourself what felt the youth,
'Mid this examination of the truth.
The nice proportions and the lily charms
Soon raised within his bosom dire alarms;
Like magick operated on the string,
And from it, what was tied, soon gave a spring;
Broke loose at once, just like a mettled steed,
That, having slipt its halter, flies with speed;
Against the abbess' nose with force it flew,
And spectacles from her proboscis threw.

THOUGH she had nearly fallen on the floor,
In thus attempting secrets to explore,
No jest she thought the accident, 'twas plain,
But would with force the discipline maintain.
A chapter instantly the lady held;
Long time upon the circumstance they dwelled.
The youthful wolf that caused the direful shock;
At length was given to the aged flock,
Who tied his hands and bound him to a tree
Face 'gainst the wood, that none his front might see;
And while the cruel troop, with rage inflamed,
Considered of rewards that vengeance framed;
While some the besoms from the kitchen brought;
And others, in the convent ars'nal sought
The various instruments the sisters used
To punish when obedience was refused;
Another double-locked, within a room.
The nuns of tender hearts and youthful bloom:--
By chance, a friend to sly gallants appeared,
And soon removed, what most our hero feared:
A miller mounted on his mule came by,
A tight-built active lad with piercing eye;
One much admired by all the girls around;
Played well at kayles:--a good companion found.
Aha! cried he, what's here?--a nice affair;
Young man, pray tell me who has placed thee there?
The sisters, say'st thou?--hast thou had thy fun,
And pleased thy fancy with a wanton nun?
Art satisfied?--and was she pretty too?
In truth, to judge by what appears to view,
Thou seemest thoroughly a wily wight,
That convent belles would relish morn and night.

ALAS! replied the other with a sigh,
In vain the nuns my virtue sought to try;
'Twas my misfortune:--patience heav'n bestow;
For worlds such wickedness I would not know.

THE miller laughed at what the other spoke;
Untied his hands, and ev'ry bandage broke.
Said he, thou ninny, scruples can'st thou find
To counteract, and prove to pleasure blind?
The business clearly should to me belong;
Our rector ne'er had thought such conduct wrong,
And never would have played the fool like this;
Fly, haste away, away; I'll thee dismiss,
First having nicely set me in thy place;
Like me thou wert not formed for soft embrace;
I'm stout and able:--quarter ne'er will ask;
Come ALL, these nuns, I'll execute the task,
And many pranks they'll see, unless a freak
Should happen any way the string to break.
The other never asked his wishes twice,
But tied him well, and left him in a trice.

WITH shoulders broad the miller you might see;
In Adam's birth-attire against the tree,
Await the coming of the aged band,
Who soon appeared, with tapers in the hand,
In solemn guise, and whips and scourges dire:
The virgin troop (as convent laws require)
In full procession moved around the Wight;
Without allowing time to catch his sight,
Or giving notice what they meant to do:
How now! cried he:--why won't you take a view?
Deceived you are; regard me well I pray;
I'm not the silly fool you had to-day,
Who woman hates, and scruples seeks to raise:
Employ but me, and soon I'll gain your praise;
I'll wonders execute; my strength appears;
And; if I fail, at once cut off my ears.
At certain pleasant play I'm clever found;
But as to whips--I never was renowned.

WHAT means the fellow? cried a toothless nun;
What would he tell us? Hast thou nothing done?
How!--Art thou not our brat-begetter?--speak;
So much the worse:--on thee our rage we'll wreak,
For him that's gone we'll make thee suffer now;
Once arms in hand, we never will allow
Such characters full punishment to miss;
The play that we desire is THIS and THIS;
Then whips and scourges round him 'gan to move,
And not a little troublesome to prove
The miller, writhing with the poignant smart,
Cried loudly:--I'll exert my utmost art,
Good ladies, to perform what is your due;
The more he bawled, the faster lashes flew.
This work so well the aged troop achieved,
He long remembered what his skin received.

WHILE thus the master chastisement had got;
His mule was feeding on the verdant spot.
But what became of this or that, at last,
I've never heard, and care not how it past.
'Tis quite enough to save the young gallant,
And more particulars we do not want.

My readers, for a time, could they obtain
A dozen nuns like these, where beauties reign,
Would doubtless not be seen without their dress!
We do not always ev'ry wish express.
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