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The Cradle

La Fontaine 1621 (Château-Thierry, Champagne) – 1695 (Neuilly-sur-Seine, Île-de-France)



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.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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La Fontaine

Jean de La Fontaine was a French fabulist and one of the most widely read French poets of the 17th century. more…

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