Tales and novels of Jean de La Fontaine

The Nightingale

NO easy matter ’tis to hold,

Against its owner’s will, the fleece

Who troubled by the itching smart

Of Cupid’s irritating dart,

Eager awaits some Jason bold

To grant release.

E’en dragon huge, or flaming steer,

When Jason’s loved will cause no fear.

Duennas, grating, bolt and lock,

All obstacles can naught avail;

Constraint is but a stumbling block;

For youthful ardour must prevail.

Girls are precocious nowadays,

Look at the men with ardent gaze,

And longings’ an infinity;

Trim misses but just in their teens

By day and night devise the means

To dull with subtlety to sleep

The Argus vainly set to keep

In safety their virginity.

Sighs, smiles, false tears, they’ll fain employ

An artless lover to decoy.

I’ll say no more, but leave to you,

Friend reader, to pronounce if true

What I’ve asserted when you have heard

How artful Kitty, caged her bird.

IN a small town in Italy,

The name of which I do not know,

Young Kitty dwelt, gay, pretty, free,

Varambon’s child. — Boccacio

Omits her mother’s name, which not

To you or me imports a jot.

At fourteen years our Kitty’s charms

Were all that could be wished — plump arms,

A swelling bosom; on her cheeks

Roses’ and lilies’ mingled streaks,

A sparkling eye — all these, you know,

Speak well for what is found below.

With such advantages as these

No virgin sure could fail to please,

Or lack a lover; nor did Kate;

But little time she had to wait;

One soon appeared to seal her fate.

Young Richard saw her, loved her, wooed her —

What swain I ask could have withstood her?

Soft words, caresses, tender glances,

The battery of love’s advances,

Soon lit up in the maiden’s breast

The flame which his own heart possessed,

Soon growing to a burning fire

Of love and mutual desire.

Desire for what? My reader knows,

Or if he does not may suppose,

And not be very wond’rous wise.

When youthful lovers mingle sighs,

Believe me, friend, I am not wrong,

For one thing only do they long.

One check deferred our lover’s bliss,

A thing quite natural, ’twas this:

The mother loved so well her child

That, fearful she might be beguiled,

She would not let her out of sight,

A single minute, day or night.

At mother’s apron string all day

Kate whiled the weary hours away,

And shared her bed all night. Such love

In parents we must all approve,

Though Catherine, I must confess,

In place of so much tenderness

More liberty would have preferred.

To little girls maternal care

In such excess is right and fair,

But for a lass of fourteen years,

For whom one need have no such fears,

Solicitude is quite absurd,

And only bores her. Kitty could

No moment steal, do what she would,

To see her Richard. Sorely vexed

She was, and he still more perplexed.

In spite of all he might devise

A squeeze, a kiss, quick talk of eyes

Was all he could obtain, no more.

Bread butterless, a sanded floor,

It seemed no better. Joy like this

Could not suffice, more sterling bliss

Our lovers wished, nor would stop short

Till they’d obtained the thing they sought.

And thus it came about. One day

By chance they met, alone, away

From jealous parents. “What’s the use;”

Said Richard, “of all our affection?

“Of love it is a rank abuse,

“And yields me nothing but dejection

“I see you without seeing you,

“Must always look another way,

“And if we meet I dare not stay,

“Must ev’ry inclination smother.

“I can’t believe your love is true;

“I’ll never own you really kind

“Unless some certain means you find

“For us to meet without your mother.”

Kate answered: “Were it not too plain

“How warm my love, another strain

“I would employ. In converse vain

“Let us not waste our moments few;

“But think what it were best to do.”

“If you will please me,” Robert said,

“You must contrive to change your bed,

“And have it placed — well, let me see —

“Moved to the outer gallery,

“Where you will be alone and free.

“We there can meet and chat at leisure

“While others sleep, nor need we fear,

“Of merry tales I have a treasure

“To tell, but cannot tell them here.”

Kate smiled at this for she knew well

What sort of tales he had to tell;

But promised she would do her best

And soon accomplish his request.

It was not easy, you’ll admit,

But love lends foolish maidens wit;

And this is how she managed it.

The whole night long she kept awake,

Snored, sighed and kicked, as one possessed,

That parents both could get not rest,

So much she made the settle shake.

This is not strange. A longing girl,

With thoughts of sweetheart in her head,

In bed all night will sleepless twirl.

A flea is in her ear, ’tis said.

The morning broke. Of fleas and heat

Kitty complained. “Let me entreat,

“O mother, I may put my bed

“Out in the gallery,” she said,

“’Tis cooler there, and Philomel

“Who warbles in the neigh’bring dell

“Will solace me.” Ready consent

The simple mother gave, and went

To seek her spouse. “Our Kate, my dear,

“Will change her bed that she may hear

“The nightingale, and sleep more cool.”

“Wife,” said the good man, “You’re a fool,

“And Kate too with her nightingale;

“Don’t tell me such a foolish tale.

“She must remain. No doubt to-night

“Will fresher be. I sleep all right

“In spite of heat, and so can she.

“Is she more delicate than me?”

Incensed was Kate by this denial

After so promising a trial,

Nor would be beat, but firmly swore

To give more trouble than before.

That night again no wink she slept

But groaned and fretted, sighed and wept,

Upon her couch so tossed and turned,

The anxious mother quite concerned

Again her husband sought. “Our Kate

“To me seems greatly changed of late.

“You are unkind,” she said to him,

“To thwart her simple, girlish whim.

“Why may she not her bed exchange,

“In naught will it the house derange?

“Placed in the passage she’s as near

“To us as were she lying here.

“You do not love your child, and will

“With your unkindness make her ill.”

“Pray cease,” the husband cried, “to scold

“And take your whim. I ne’er could hold

“My own against a screaming wife;

“You’ll drive me mad, upon my life.

“Her belly-full our Kate may get

“Of nightingale or of linnet.”

The thing was settled. Kate obeyed,

And in a trice her bed was made,

And lover signalled. Who shall say

How long to both appeared that day,

That tedious day! But night arrived

And Richard too; he had contrived

By ladder, and a servant’s aid,

To reach the chamber of the maid.

To tell how often they embraced,

How changed in form their tenderness,

Would lead to nothing but a waste

Of time, my readers will confess.

The longest, most abstruse discourse

Would lack precision, want the force

Their youthful ardour to portray.

To understand there’s but one way —

Experience. The nightingale

Sang all night long his pleasing tale,

And though he made but little noise,

The lass was satisfied. Her joys

So exquisite that she averred

The other nightingale, the bird

Who warbles to the woods his bliss,

Was but an ass compared with this.

But nature could not long maintain

Of efforts such as these the strain;

Their forces spent, the lovers twain

In fond embrace fell fast asleep

Just as the dawn began to peep:

The father as he left his bed

By curiosity was led

To learn if Kitty soundly slept,

And softly to the passage crept.

“I’ll see the influence,” he said,

“Of nightingale and change of bed.”

With bated breath, upon tip toes,

Close to the couch he cautious goes

Where Kitty lay in calm repose.

Excessive heat had made all clothes

Unbearable. The sleeping pair

Had cast them off, and lay as bare

As our first happy parents were

In Paradise. But in the place

Of apple, in her willing hand

Kate firmly grasp the magic wand

Which served to found the human race,

The which to name were a disgrace,

Though dames the most refined employ it;

Desire it, and much enjoy it,

If good Catullus tells us true.

The father scarce believed his view,

But keeping in his bosom pent

His anger, to his wife he went,

And said, “Get up, and come with me.

“At present I can plainly see

“Why Kate had such anxiety

“To hear the nightingale, for she

“To catch the bird so well has planned

“That now she holds him in her hand.”

The mother almost wept for glee.

“A nightingale, oh! let me see.

“How large is he, and can he sing,

“And will he breed, the pretty thing?

“How did she catch him, clever child?”

Despite his grief the good man smiled.

“Much more than you expect you’ll see.

“But hold your tongue, and come with me;

“For if your chattering is heard,

“Away will fly the timid bird;

“And you will spoil our daughter’s game.”

Who was surprised? It was the dame.

Her anger burst into a flame

As she the nightingale espied

Which Kitty held; she could have cried,

And scolded, called her nasty slut,

And brazen hussey, bitch, and — but

Her husband stopped her. “What’s the use

“Of all your scolding and abuse?

“The mischief’s done, in vain may you

“From now till doomsday fret and stew,

“Misfortune done you can’t undo,

“But something may be done to mend:

“For notary this instant send,

“Bid holy priest and mayor attend.

“For their good offices I wait

“To set this nasty matter straight.”

As he discoursed, Richard awoke,

And seeing that the sun had broke,

These troubled words to Kitty spoke

“Alas, my love, ’tis broad day light,

“How can I now effect my flight?”

“All will go well,” rejoined the sire,

“I will not grumble, my just ire

“Were useless here; you have committed

“A wrong of which to be acquitted,

“Richard, there is one only way,

“My child you wed without delay.

“She’s well brought up, young, full of health

“If fortune has not granted wealth,

“Her beauty you do not deny,

“So wed her, or prepare to die.”

To hesitate in such a case

Would surely have been out of place

The girl he loved to take to wife,

Or in his prime to lose his life,

The point in truth needs no debate,

Nor did our Richard hesitate.

Besides, the most supreme delight

Of life he’d tasted one short night,

But one, in lovely Kitty’s arms;

Could he so soon resign her charms!

While Richard, pleased with his escape

From what he feared an awkward scrape,

Was dreaming of his happy choice,

Our Kitty, by her father’s voice

Awakened, from her hand let go

The cause of all her joy and woe,

And round her naked beauties wound

The sheet picked up from off the ground:

Meanwhile the notary appears

To put an end to all their fears.

They wrote, they signed, the sealed — and thus

The wedding ended free from fuss.

They left the happy couple there.

His satisfaction to declare,

Thus spoke their father to the pair:

“Take courage, children, have no care;

“The nightingale in cage is pent,

“May sing now to his heart’s content.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/la_fontaine/jean_de/tales/chapter69.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38