The Picture

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

SOLICITED I've been to give a tale,
In which (though true, decorum must prevail),
The subject from a picture shall arise,
That by a curtain's kept from vulgar eyes.
My brain must furnish various features new:
What's delicate and smart produce to view;
By this expressed, and not by t'other said:
And all so clear, most easy to be read,
By ev'ry fool, without the aid of notes,
That idiot's bad indeed who never quotes.

CATULLUS tells us, ev'ry matron sage
Will peep most willingly (whate'er her age),
At that gigantick gift, which Juno made,
To Venus' fruit, in gardens oft displayed.
If any belle recede, and shun the sight,
Dissimulation she supposes right.

THIS principle allowed, why scruples make?
Why, less than eyes, should ears a license take?
But since 'tis so resolved I'll do my best,
And naught in open terms shall be expressed:
A veil shall over ev'ry charm be cast,
Of gauze indeed, and this from first to last,
So nicely done, that howsoever tost,
To none I trust will any thing be lost.
Who nicely thinks, and speaks with graceful ease;
Can current make just whatsoe'er he please;
For all will pass, as I have often known:
The word well chosen, pardon soon is shown,
The sex o'erlook the thing no more the same,
The thought remains, but 'tis without a name;
No blush is raised; no difficulty found;
Yet ev'ry body understands around.

AT present, much I need this useful art:
Why? you will ask; because, when I impart
Such wondrous circumstances, ev'ry belle,
Without reserve, will con them over well.
To this I answer: female ears are chaste,
Though roguish are their eyes, as well as taste.

BE that as 'twill, I certainly should like,
With freedom to explain, by terms oblique,
To belles, how this was broken:--that was down:
Assist me pray, ye NINE of high renown;
But you are maids, and strangers, we agree,
To LOVE'S soft scenes, not knowing A from B.
Remain then, Muses, never stir an inch,
But beg the god of verse, when at a pinch,
To help me out and kind assistance lend,
To choose expressions which will not offend,
Lest I some silly things should chance to say,
That might displeasure raise, and spoil my lay.
Enough, howe'er, we've on the subject said:
'Tis time we t'wards the painting should be led,
Which an adventure you will find contains,
That happened once in Cupid's famed domains.

IN former days, just by Cythera town
A monastery was, of some renown,
With nuns the queens of beauty filled the place,
And gay gallants you easily might trace.
The courtier, citizen, and parson too,
The doctor and the bachelor you'd view,
With eager steps:--all visits thither made;
And 'mong the latter, one (a pleasing blade)
Had free access: was thought a prudent friend,
Who might to sisters many comforts lend;
Was always closely shaved and nicely dressed;
And ev'ry thing he said was well expressed;
The breath of scandal, howsoever pat,
Ne'er lighted on his neat cravat nor hat.

TWO nuns alternatively, from the youth;
Experienced many services, in truth;
The one had recently a novice been;
Few months had passed since she complete was seen;
The other still the dress of novice wore;
The youngest's age was seventeen years, not more
Time doubtless very proper (to be plain)
Love's wily thesis fully to sustain:
The bachelor so well the fair had taught,
And they so earnestly the science sought,
That by experience both the art had learned,
And ev'ry thing most perfectly discerned.

THESE sisters eagerly had made one day
An assignation with the lover gay;
To have the entertainment quite complete,
They'd Bacchus, Ceres too, who Venus greet:
With perfect neatness all the meats were served,
And naught from grace and elegancy swerved;
The wines, the custards, jellies, creams, and ice:
The decorations, ev'ry thing was nice;
What pleasing objects and delights were viewed!
The room with sweetest flow'rs fair Flora strewed;
A sort of garden o'er the linen traced
Here lakes of love:--there names entwined were placed;
Magnificence like this the nuns admired,
And such amusements ardently desired.
Their beauty too incited to be free;
A thousand matters filled their souls with glee;
In height the belles were pretty much the same
Like alabaster fair; of perfect frame;
In num'rous corners Cupid nestling lay:
Beneath a stomacher he'd slyly play,
A veil or scapulary, this or that,
Where least the eye of day perceived he sat,
Unless a lover called to mystick bow'rs,
Where he might hearts entwine with chains of flow'r
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on March 05, 2023

4:01 min read

Quick analysis:

Closest metre Iambic pentameter
Characters 4,340
Words 770
Stanzas 8
Stanza Lengths 10, 6, 16, 6, 16, 14, 12, 24

La Fontaine

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

All La Fontaine poems | La Fontaine Books

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