La Fontaine

(1621 - 1695 / Champagne / France)

Nicaise


TO serve the shop as 'prentice was the lot;
Of one who had the name of Nicaise got;
A lad quite ignorant beyond his trade,
And what arithmetick might lend him aid;
A perfect novice in the wily art,
That in amours is used to win the heart.
Good tradesmen formerly were late to learn
The tricks that soon in friars we discern;
They ne'er were known those lessons to begin,
Till more than down appeared upon the chin.
But now-a-days, in practice, 'tis confessed,
These shopkeepers are knowing as the best.

OUR lad of ancient date was less advanced;
At scenes of love his eyes had never glanced;
Be that as 'twill, he now was in the way,
And naught but want of wit produced delay:
A belle indeed had on him set her heart
His master's daughter felt LOVE'S poignant smart;
A girl of most engaging mind and mien,
And always steady in her conduct seen.
Sincerity of soul or humour free,
Or whether with her taste it might agree,
A fool 'twas clear presided o'er her soul,
And all her thoughts and actions felt control.
Some bold gallant would p'erhaps inform her plain,
She ever kept wild Folly in her train,
And nothing say to me who tales relate;
But oft on reason such proceedings wait.
If you a goddess love, advance she'll make;
Our belle the same advantages would take.
Her fortune, wit, and charm, attention drew,
And many sparks would anxiously pursue;
How happy he who should her heart obtain,
And Hymen prove he had not sighed in vain!
But she had promised, to the modest youth,
Who first was named, her confidence and truth;
The little god of pleasing soft desire
With full compliance with his whims require.

THe belle was pleased the 'prentice to prefer:
A handsome lad with truth we may aver,
Quite young, well made, with fascinating eye:
Such charms are ne'er despised we may rely,
But treasures thought, no FAIR will e'er neglect;
Whate'er her senses say, she'll these respect.
For one that LOVE lays hold of by the soul,
A thousand by the eyes receive control.

THIS sprightly girl with soft endearing ease,
Exerted ev'ry care the lad to please,
To his regards she never shy appeared;
Now pinched his arm, then smiled and often leered;
Her hand across his eyes would sometimes put;
At others try to step upon his foot.
To this he nothing offered in reply,
Though oft his throbbing bosom heaved a sigh.

So many tender scenes, at length we find,
Produced the explanation LOVE designed;
The youthful couple, we may well believe,
Would from each other mutual vows receive;
They neither promises nor kisses spared,
Incalculable were the numbers shared;
If he had tried to keep exact account,
He soon had been bewildered with th' amount;
To such infinity it clearly ran,
Mistakes would rise if he pursued the plan;
A ceremony solely was required,
Which prudent girls have always much admired,
Yet this to wait gave pain and made her grieve;
From you, said she, the boon I would receive;
Or while I live the rapture never know,
That Hymen at his altar can bestow;
To you I promise, by the pow'rs divine,
My hand and heart I truly will resign.
Howe'er I'll freely say, should Hymen fail
To make me your's and wishes not prevail,
You must not fancy I'll become a nun,
Though much I hope to act as I've begun;
To marry you would please me to the soul;
But how can WE the ruling pow'rs control?
Too much I'm confident you love my fame,
To aim at what might bring me soon to shame:
In wedlock I've been asked by that and this;
My father thinks these offers not amiss;
But, Nicaise, I'll allow you still to hope,
That if with others I'm obliged to cope,
No matter whether counsellor or judge.
Since clearly ev'ry thing to such I grudge,
The marriage eve, or morn, or day, or hour,
To you I'll give--the first enchanting flow'r.

THE lad most gratefully his thanks returned;
His breast with ev'ry soft emotion burned.
Within a week, to this sweet charmer came,
A rich young squire, who soon declared his flame;
On which she said to Nicaise:--he will do;
This spark will easily let matters through;
And as the belle was confident of that,
She gave consent and listened to his chat.
Soon all was settled and arranged the day,
When marriage they no longer would delay,
You'll fully notice this:--I think I view
The thoughts which move around and you pursue;
'Twas doubtless clear, whatever bliss in store,
The lady was betrothed, and nothing more.

THOUGH all was fixed a week before the day,
Yet fearing accidents might things delay,
Or even break the treaty ere complete,
She would not our apprentice fully greet,
Till on the very morn she gave her hand,
Lest chance defeated what was nicely planned.

HOWE'ER the belle was to the altar led,
A virgin still, and doomed the squire to wed,
Who, quite impatient, consummation sought,
As soon as he the charmer back had brought;
But she solicited the day apart,
And this obtained, alone by prayers and art.
'Twas early morn, and 'stead of bed she dressed,
In ev'ry thing a queen had thought the best;
With diamonds, pearls, and various jewels rare;
Her husband riches had, she was aware,
Which raised her into rank that dress required,
And all her neighbours envied and admired.
Her lover, to secure the promised bliss,
An hour's indulgence gained to take a kiss.
A bow'r within a garden was the spot,
Which, for their private meeting, they had got.
A confidant had been employed around,
To watch if any one were lurking found.

THE lady was the first who thither came;
To get a nosegay was, she said, her aim;
And Nicaise presently her steps pursued,
Who, when the turf within the bow'r he viewed,
Exclaimed, oh la! how wet it is my dear!
Your handsome clothes will be spoiled I fear!
A carpet let me instantly provide?
Deuce take the clothes! the fair with anger cried;
Ne'er think of that: I'll say I had a fall;
Such accident a loss I would not call,
When Time so clearly on the wing appears,
'Tis right to banish scruples, cares, and fears;
Nor think of clothes nor dress, however fine,
But those to dirt or flames at once resign;
Far better this than precious time to waste,
Since frequently in minutes bliss we taste;
A quarter of an hour we now should prize,
The place no doubt will very well suffice;
With you it rests such moments to employ,
And mutually our bosoms fill with joy.
I scarcely ought to say what now I speak,
But anxiously your happiness I seek.

INDEED, the anxious, tender youth replied,
To save such costly clothes we should decide;
I'll run at once, and presently be here;
Two minutes will suffice I'm very clear.
AWAY the silly lad with ardour flew,
And left no time objections to renew.
His wondrous folly cured the charming dame;
Whose soul so much disdained her recent flame;
That instantly her heart resumed its place,
Which had too long been loaded with disgrace:
Go, prince of fools, she to herself exclaimed,
For ever, of thy conduct, be ashamed;
To lose thee surely I can ne'er regret,
Impossible a worse I could have met.
I've now considered, and 'tis very plain,
Thou merit'st not such favours to obtain;
From hence I swear, by ev'ry thing above;
My husband shall alone possess my love;
And least I might be tempted to betray,
To him I'll instantly the boon convey,
Which Nicaise might have easily received;
Thank Heav'n my breast from folly is relieved.
This said, by disappointment rendered sour,
The beauteous bride in anger left the bow'r.
Soon with the carpet simple Nicaise came,
And found that things no longer were the same.

THE lucky hour, ye suitors learn I pray,
Is not each time the clock strikes through the day,
In Cupid's alphabet I think I've read,
Old Time, by lovers, likes not to be led;
And since so closely he pursues his plan,
'Tis right to seize him, often as you can.
Delays are dangerous, in love or war,
And Nicaise is a proof they fortune mar.

QUITE out of breath with having quickly run;
Delighted too that he so soon had done,
The youth returned most anxious to employ,
The carpet for his mistress to enjoy,
But she alas! with rage upon her brow,
Had left the spot, he knew not why nor how;
And to her company returned in haste
The flame extinguished that her mind disgraced.
Perhaps she went the jewel to bestow,
Upon her spouse, whose breast with joy would glow:
What jewel pray?--The one that ev'ry maid
Pretends to have, whatever tricks she's played.
This I believe; but I'll no dangers run;
To burn my fingers I've not yet begun;
Yet I allow, howe'er, in such a case,
The girl, who fibs, therein no sin can trace.

OUR belle who, thanks to Nicaise, yet retained;
In spite of self, the flow'r he might have gained,
Was grumbling still, when he the lady met
Why, how is this, cried he, did you forget,
That for this carpet I had gone away?
When spread, how nicely on it we might play!
You'd soon to woman change the silly maid;
Come, let's return, and not the bliss evade;
No fear of dirt nor spoiling of your dress;
And then my love I fully will express.

NOT so, replied the disappointed dame,
We'll put it off:--perhaps 'twould hurt your frame
Your health I value, and I would advise,
To be at ease, take breath, and prudence prize;
Apprentice in a shop you now are bound
Next 'prentice go to some gallant around;
You'll not so soon his pleasing art require,
Nor to your tutorage can I now aspire.
Friend Nicaise take some neighb'ring servant maid,
You're quite a master in the shopping trade;
Stuffs you can sell, and ask the highest price;
And to advantage turn things in a trice.
But opportunity you can't discern;
To know its value,--prithee go and learn.

Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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