La Fontaine's Wicked Hermits
French writer and fabulist Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695) composed fables and stories marked by piquant social and political themes, high-minded moral critique, and ribald caricatures of priests, monks, and hermits. His frankness got La Fontaine into political troubles and in later life he abjured his worst stories -- or feigned to. Here are some fables and stories that include hermits, portrayed as naive, selfish, vain, or wicked.
THE SHEPHERD AND THE KING
Two demons at their pleasure share our being--
The cause of Reason from her homestead fleeing;
No heart but on their altars kindles flames.
If you demand their purposes and names,
The one is Love, the other is Ambition.
Of far the greater share this takes possession,
For even into love it enters,
Which I might prove; but now my story centers
Upon a shepherd clothed with lofty powers:
The tale belongs to older times than ours.
A king observed a flock, wide spread
Upon the plains, most admirably fed,
Overpaying largely, as returned the years,
Their shepherd's care, by harvests for his shears.
Such pleasure in this man the monarch took:
"You merit," said he, "to wield a crook
Over higher flock than this; and my esteem
Over men now makes you judge supreme."
Behold our shepherd, scales in hand,
Although a hermit and a wolf or two,
Besides his flock and dogs, were all he knew!
Well stocked with sense, all else upon demand
Would come of course, and did, we understand.
His neighbor hermit came to him to say,
"Am I awake? Is this no dream, I pray?
You favorite? you great? Beware of kings,
Their favors are but slippery things,
Dear-bought; to mount the heights to which they call
Is but to court a more illustrious fall.
You little know to what this lure beguiles.
My friend, I say, Beware!" The other smiles.
The hermit adds, "See how
The court has marred your wisdom even now!
That purblind traveler I seem to see,
Who, having lost his whip, by strange mistake,
Took for a better one a snake;
But, while he thanked his stars, brimful of glee,
Cried out a passenger, "God shield your breast!
Why, man, for life, throw down that treacherous pest,
That snake!"--"It is my whip."--"A snake, I say:
What selfish end could prompt my warning, pray?
Think you to keep your prize?"--"And wherefore not?
My whip was worn; I've found another new:
This counsel grave from envy springs in you."--
The stubborn man would not believe a jot,
Till warm and lithe the serpent grew,
And, striking with his venom, slew
The man almost upon the spot.
And as to you, I dare predict
That something worse will soon afflict."
"Indeed? What worse than death, prophetic hermit?"
"Perhaps, the compound heartache I may term it."
And never was there truer prophecy.
Full many a courtier pest, by many a lie
Contrived, and many a cruel slander,
To make the king suspect the judge awry
In both ability and candor.
Cabals were raised, and dark conspiracies,
Of men that felt aggrieved by his decrees.
'With wealth of ours he has a palace built,'
Said they. The king, astonished at his guilt,
His ill-got riches asked to see.
He found but mediocrity,
Bespeaking strictest honesty.
So much for his magnificence.
Anon, his plunder was a hoard immense
Of precious stones that filled an iron box
All fast secured by half a score of locks.
Himself the coffer opened, and sad surprise
Befell those manufacturers of lies.
The opened lid disclosed no other matters
Than, first, a shepherd's suit in tatters,
And then a cap and jacket, pipe and crook,
And scrip, mayhap with pebbles from the brook.
"O treasure sweet,' said he, 'that never drew
The viper brood of envy's lies on you!
I take you back, and leave this palace splendid,
As some roused sleeper does a dream that's ended.
Forgive me, sire, this exclamation.
In mounting up, my fall I had foreseen,
Yet loved the height too well; for who hath been,
Of mortal race, devoid of all ambition?"
THE RAT RETIRED FROM THE WORLD
The ancients had a legend which told of a certain rat who, weary of the
anxieties of this world, retired to a cheese, therein to live in peace.
Profound solitude reigned around the hermit. He worked so hard with his
feet and his teeth that in a few days he had a spacious dwelling and
food in plenty. What more could he desire? He thrived well, growing
large and fat. Blessings are showered upon those who are vowed to
simplicity and renunciation!
One day a deputation from Rat-land waited upon him, begging that out of
his abundance he would grant a slight dole towards fitting out a journey
to a strange country where the rats hoped to get succor in their great
war against the cat-tribe. Ratopolis was besieged, and owing to the
poverty of the beleaguered republic they were forced to start with empty
wallets. They asked but little, believing that in a few days help would
arrive. "My friends," said the hermit, "earthly affairs no longer
concern me. In what way could a poor recluse assist you? What could he
do but pray for the help you need! My best hopes and wishes you may be
assured of." With these words this latest among the saints shut his
Whom have I in mind, do you think, when I speak of this rat, so sparing
of his help? A monk?--Oh, no! A dervish rather, for a monk, I suppose,
is at all times charitable.
THE BEAR AND THE AMATEUR GARDENER
A certain mountain bear, unlicked and rude,
By fate confined within a lonely wood,
A new Bellerophon, whose life,
Knew neither comrade, friend, nor wife, --
Became insane; for reason, as we term it,
Dwells never long with any hermit.
'Tis good to mix in good society,
Obeying rules of due propriety;
And better yet to be alone;
But both are ills when overdone.
THE ARBITER, THE ALMONER, AND THE HERMIT
Three saints, for their salvation jealous,
Pursued, with hearts alike most zealous,
By routes diverse, their common aim.
All highways lead to Rome: the same
Of heaven our rivals deeming true,
Each chose alone his pathway to pursue.
Moved by the cares, delays, and crosses
Attached to suits by legal process,
One gave himself as judge, without reward,
For earthly fortune having small regard.
Since there are laws, to legal strife
Man damns himself for half his life.
For half? --Three-fourths! -- perhaps the whole!
The hope possessed our arbiter's soul,
That on his plan he should be able
To cure this vice detestable. --
The second chose the hospitals.
I give him praise: to solace pain
Is charity not spent in vain,
While men in part are animals.
The sick -- for things went then as now they go --
Gave trouble to the almoner, I know.
Impatient, sour, complaining ever,
As racked by rheum, or parched with fever, --
”His favorites are such and such;
With them he watches over-much,
And lets us die,” they say. --
Such sore complaints from day to day
Were naught to those that did await
The reconciler of debate.
His judgments suited neither side;
Forsooth, in either party's view,
He never held the balance true,
But swerved in every cause he tried.
Discouraged by such speech, the arbiter
Betook himself to see the almoner.
As both received but murmurs for their fees,
They both retired, in not the best of moods,
To break their troubles to the silent woods,
And hold communion with the ancient trees.
There, underneath a rugged mountain,
Beside a clear and silent fountain,
A place revered by winds, to sun unknown,
They found the other saint, who lived alone.
Forthwith they asked his sage advice.
"Your own,” he answered, “must suffice;
Who but yourselves your wants should know?
To know one's self, is, here below,
The first command of the Supreme.
Have you obeyed among the bustling throngs?
Such knowledge to tranquility belongs;
Elsewhere to seek were fallacy extreme.
Disturb the water -- do you see your face?
See we ourselves within a troubled breast?
A murky cloud in such a case,
Though once it were a crystal vase!
But, brothers, let it simply rest,
And each shall see his features there impressed.
For inward thought a desert home is best.”
Such was the hermit's answer brief;
And, happily, it gained belief.
But business, still, from life must not be stricken
Since men will doubtless sue at law, and sicken,
Physicians there must be, and advocates, --
Whereof, thank God, no lack the world awaits,
While wealth and honors are the well-known baits.
Yet, in the stream of common wants when thrown,
What busy mortal but forgets his own?
O, you who give the public all your care,
Be it as judge, or prince, or minister,
Disturbed by countless accidents most sinister,
By adverse gales abased, debased by fair, --
Yourself you never see, nor see you aught.
Comes there a moment's rest for serious thought,
There comes a flatterer too, and brings it all to naught.
This lesson seals our varied page:
O, may it teach from age to age!
To kings I give it, to the wise propose;
Where could my labors better close?
from THE MOGUL'S DREAM
This vizier sometimes gladly sought
The solitude that favors thought;
Whereas, the hermit, in his cot,
Had longings for a vizier's lot.
To this interpretation dared I add,
The love of solitude I would inspire.
It satisfies the heart's desire
With unencumbered gifts and glad --
Heaven-planted joys, of painless sweet,
Aye springing up beneath our feet.
O Solitude! whose secret charms I know --
Retreats that I have loved -- when shall I go
To taste, far from a world of din and noise,
Your shades so fresh, where silence has a voice?
When shall their soothing gloom my refuge be?
When shall the sacred Nine, from courts afar,
And cities with all solitude at war,
Engross entire, and teach their votary
The stealthy movements of the spangled nights,
The names and virtues of those errant lights
Which rule over human character and fate?
Or, if not born to purposes so great,
The streams, at least, shall win my heartfelt thanks,
While, in my verse, I paint their flowery banks.
Fate shall not weave my life with golden thread,
Nor, beneath rich fret-work, on a purple bed,
Shall I repose, full late, my care-worn head.
But will my sleep be less a treasure?
Less deep, thereby, and full of pleasure?
I vow it, sweet and gentle as the dew,
Within those deserts sacrifices new;
And when the time shall come to yield my breath,
Without remorse I'll join the ranks of Death.
from FRIAR PHILIP'S GEESE
A wood, from earliest years, his home had been,
And birds the only company he'd seen,
Whose notes harmonious often lulled his care,
Beguiled his hours, and saved him from despair;
Delightful sounds! from nightingale and dove
Unknown their tongue, yet indicant of love.
This savage, solitary, rustic school,
The father chose his infancy to rule.
The mother's recent death induced the sire,
To place the son where only beasts retire;
And long the forest habitants alone
Were all his youthful sight had ever known.
Two reasons, good or bad, the father led
To fly the world -- all intercourse to dread
Since fate had torn his lovely spouse from hence;
Misanthropy and fear overcame each sense;
Of the world grown tired, he hated all around.
Too oft in solitude is sorrow found.
His partner's death produced distaste of life,
And made him fear to seek another wife.
A hermit's gloomy, mossy cell he took,
And wished his child might thither solely look.
Among the poor his little wealth he threw,
And with his infant son alone withdrew;
The forest's dreary wilds concealed his cell;
There Philip (such his name) resolved to dwell.
BY holy motives led, and not chagrin,
The hermit never spoke of what he'd seen;
But, from the youth's discernment, strove to hide,
Whatever regarded love, and much beside,
The softer sex, with all their magic charms,
That fill the feeling bosom with alarms.
As years advanced, the boy with care he taught;
What suited best his age before him brought;
At five he showed him animals and flowers,
The birds of air, the beasts, their several powers;
And now and then of hell he gave a hint,
Old Satan's wrath, and what might awe imprint,
How formed, and doomed to infamy below;
In childhood Fear's the lesson first we know!
The years had passed away, when Philip tried,
In matters more profound his son to guide;
He spoke of Paradise and Heaven above;
But not a word of woman,--nor of Love.
Fifteen arrived, the sire with anxious care,
Of nature's works declaimed,--but not the Fair:
An age, when those, for solitude designed,
Should be to scenes of seriousness confined,
Nor joys of youth, nor soft ideas praised
The flame soon spreads when Cupid's torch is raised.
At length, when twenty summers time had run,
The father to the city brought his son;
With years weighed down, the hermit scarcely knew
His daily course of duty to pursue;
And when Death's venomous shaft should on him fall;
On whom could then his boy for succor call?
How life support, unknowing and unknown?
Wolves, foxes, bears, never charity have shown;
And all the sire could give his darling care,
A staff and wallet, he was well aware
Fine patrimony, truly, for a child!
To which his mind was no way reconciled.
Bread few, 'twas clear, the hermit would deny,
And rich he might have been you may rely;
When he drew near, the children quickly cried
Here's father Philip--haste, the alms provide;
And many pious men his friends were found,
But not one female devotee around:
None would he hear; the Fair he always fled
Their smiles and wiles the friar kept in dread.
Our hermit, when he thought his darling youth;
Well fixed in duty and religious truth,
Conveyed him among his pious friends, to learn
How food to beg, and other ways discern.
In tears he viewed his son the forest quit,
And fain would have him for the world unfit.
The city's palaces and lofty spires,
Our rustic's bosom filled with new desires.
The prince's residence great splendor showed,
And lively pleasure on the youth bestowed.
What's here? said he; The court, his friends replied:--
What there?--The mansions where the great reside:--
And these?--Fine statues, noble works of art:
All gave delight and gratitude his heart.
But when the beauteous Fair first caught his view,
To every other sight he bade adieu;
The palace, court, or mansions he admired,
No longer proved the objects he desired;
Another cause of admiration rose,
His breast pervaded, and disturbed repose.
What's this, he cried, so elegantly neat?
O tell me, father; make my joy complete!
What gave the son such exquisite delight,
The parent filled with agonizing fright.
To answer, howsoever he'd no excuse,
So told the youth--a bird they call a goose.
O beauteous bird, exclaimed the enraptured boy,
Sing, sound thy voice, 'twill fill my soul with joy;
To you I'd anxiously be better known;
O father, let me have one for my own!
A thousand times I fondly ask the boon;
Let's take it to the woods: 'tis not too soon;
Young as it is, I'll feed it morn and night,
And always make it my supreme delight.
THE DEVIL IN HELL
He surely must be wrong who loving fears;
And does not flee when beauty first appears.
Ye Fair, with charms divine, I know your fame;
No more I'll burn my fingers in the flame.
From you a soft sensation seems to rise,
And, to the heart, advances through the eyes;
What there it causes I've no need to tell:
Some die of love, or languish in the spell.
Far better surely mortals here might do;
There's no occasion dangers to pursue.
By way of proof a charmer I will bring,
Whose beauty to a hermit gave the sting:
Thence, save the sin, which fully I except;
A very pleasant intercourse was kept;
Except the sin, again I must repeat,
My sentiments on this will never meet
The taste of him at Rome, who wine had swilled,
Till, to the throat, he thoroughly was filled,
And then exclaimed, is it not a sin to drink?
Such conduct horrid ever I shall think;
I wish to prove, even saints in fear should live;
The truth is clear:--our faults may Heaven forgive;
If dread of punishment, from powers divine,
Had led this friar in the proper line,
He never had the charming girl retained,
Who, young and artless, would your heart have gained.
Her name was Alibech, if I recollect;
Too innocent, deceptions to detect.
One day this lovely maiden having read,
How certain pious, holy saints were led,
The better to observe religious care,
To seek retirement in some forlorn repair,
Where they, like Heavenly Angels, moved around,
Some here, some there, were in concealment found,
Was quite delighted, strange as it may seem,
And presently she formed the frantic scheme,
Of imitating those her mind revered,
And to her plan most rigidly adhered.
With silent steps the innocent withdrew;
To mothers, sisters,--none she bade adieu.
Long time she walked through fields, and plain, and dale;
At length she gained a wood within a vale;
There met an aged man, who once might be,
Gay, airy, pleasing, blithe, gallant, and free,
But now a meager skeleton was seen
The shadow only of what late he'd been:
Said she, good father, I have much desire
To be a saint: thither my hopes aspire;
I fain would merit reverence and prayer,
A festival have kept with anxious care;
What pleasure, every year, the palm in hand,
And, beaming round the head, a holy band,
Nice presents, flowers, and offerings to receive
Your practice difficult must I believe?
Already I can fast for many days,
And soon should learn to follow all your ways.
Go, said the aged man, your plan resign;
I'd have you, as a friend, the state decline;
'Tis not so easy sanctity to meet,
That fasting should suffice the boon to greet.
Heaven guards from ill the maids and wives who fast,
Or holiness would very seldom last.
'Tis requisite to practice other things;
These secrets are, which move by hidden springs;
A hermit, whom you'll find beneath yon beech,
Can, better far than I, their virtues teach;
Go, seek him, pray, make haste if you are sage;
I never retain such birds within my cage.
This having said, at once he left the belle,
And wisely shut the door, and barred his cell:
Not trusting hair-cloth, fasting, age, nor gout;
With beauty, anchorites themselves should doubt.
Our pensive fair soon found the person meant,
A man whose soul was on religion bent;
His name was Rustic, young and warm in prayer;
Such youthful hermits of deception share.
Her holy wish, the girl to him expressed,
A wish most fervent doubtless to be blessed,
And felt so strongly, Alibech had fear,
Some day the mark might on her fruit appear.
A Smile her innocence from Rustic drew;
Said he, in me you little learning view;
But what I've got, I'll readily divide,
And nothing from your senses try to hide.
The hermit surely would have acted right;
Such pupil to have sent away at sight.
He managed otherwise, as we shall state;
The consequences, let us now relate.
Since much he wished perfection to pursue;
He, to himself, exclaimed: what can I do?
Watch, fast, and pray; wear hair-cloth too; but this
Is surely little that will lead to bliss;
All do as much, but with a Fair to dwell,
And, never touch her, would be to excel;
'Twere triumph among the Heavenly Angels thought;
Let's merit it, and keep what here is brought;
If I resist a thing so sweet and kind,
I gain the end that powers divine designed.
He with him let the charming belle remain;
And confident he could at will abstain,
Both Satan and the flesh at once defied:
Two foes on mischief ready to decide.
Behold our saints together in a hut;
Young Rustic, where a corner seemed to jut;
A bed of rushes for the novice placed,
Since sleeping on the floor had her debased,
Who, yet unused to hardships, much must feel:
'Twas best that these should on her senses steal.
A little fruit, and bread not over fine,
She had for supper:--water too for wine.
The hermit fasted; but the lady fed,
And ate with appetite her fruit and bread.
Apart their place of rest, the maiden slept,
But something quite awake the other kept:
The Devil could by no means quiet rest,
Till he should get admitted as a guest.
He was received within the humble cell;
The friar's thoughts were on his smiling belle,
Her simple manners, fascinating grace,
Complexion, age; each feature he would trace;
The heaving bosom, and the beauteous charms;
That made him wish to clasp her in his arms.
By passion moved, he bade at once adieu,
To hair-cloth, discipline, and fasting too;
Cried he, my saints are these; to them I'll pray;
From Alibech no longer he would stay,
But to her flew, and roused the girl from sleep:
Said he, so soon you should not silence keep,
It is not right:--there's something to be done,
Ere we suspend the converse we've begun:
'Tis proper that, to please the powers divine;
We Satan instantly in Hell confine;
He was created for no other end;
To block him up let's every effort lend.
Immediately within the bed he slid,
When, scarcely knowing what young Rustic did;
And, unaccustomed to the mystic scene,
She knew not what the anchorite could mean,
Nor this nor that but, partly by consent,
And partly force, yet wishing to prevent,
Though not presuming to resist his sway
To him amid pain and pleasure, she gave way,
Believing every thing was most exact,
And, what the saint performed, a gracious act,
By thus the Devil shutting up in Hell,
Where he was destined with his imps to dwell.
Henceforth 'twas requisite, if saint she'd be;
From martyrdom she must not think to flee,
For friar Rustic little sought to please:
The lesson was not given quite at ease,
Which made the girl (not much improved in wit)
Exclaim, this Devil mischief will commit;
'Tis very plain, though strange it may appear
To hurt his prison even he'll persevere;
The injury now you clearly may perceive;
But, for the evil done, I shall not grieve:
Yet richly he deserves to be again
Shut up effectually in his domain.
It shall be so, the anchorite replied;
Once more the mystic art was fully tried;
Such care he took, such charity was shown,
That Hell, by use, free with the Devil grown,
His presence pleasant always would have found;
Could Rustic equally have kept his ground.
Cried Alibech, 'tis very truly said,
No prison has so nice and soft a bed,
But presently the host will weary grow;
And here our pair soon discord seemed to show:
Hell, for the prisoner, in vain inquired;
Deaf was the fiend, and quietly retired;
Repeated calls of course must irksome prove:
The fair grew weary, when he would not move;
Her strong desire to be a saint declined;
And Rustic to get rid of her designed;
In this with him the belle agreed so well,
That secretly she left the hermit's cell,
And home returned in haste the shortest way;
But what the Fair could to her parents say,
Is what I fain would know, though truly yet;
The full particulars I never could get.
'Tis probable she made them understand,
Her heart was prompted by divine command;
To try to be a saint; that they believed,
Or seemingly for truth the tale received.
Perhaps the parents were not quite exact,
In narrowly examining the fact;
Though some suspicions doubtless might arise
About her Hell, they could not well disguise;
But 'tis so formed that little can be seen,
And many jailors in it duped have been.
For Alibech great feasting was prepared,
When, through simplicity, the girl declared,
To those around, without the least restraint,
How she had acted to be made a saint.
You'd surely no occasion, they replied,
To go so far instruction to provide,
When at your house you might have had, with ease,
Like secret lectures, just as you should please.
Said one, my brother could the thing have done;
Another cried,--my cousin would have run
To do the same; or Neherbal, who's near,
No novice in the business would appear;
He seeks your hand, which you'll be wise to take
Before he learns--what might a difference make.
She took the hint, and he the Fair received;
A handsome fortune many fears relieved;
This joined to numerous charms that had the belle;
He fancied pure a most suspicious Hell,
And freely used the blessings Hymen sends;
May Heaven like joys bestow on all our friends!
When Venus and Hypocrisy combine,
Oft pranks are played that show a deep design;
Men are but men, and friars full as weak:
I'm not by Envy moved these truths to speak.
Have you a sister, daughter, pretty wife?
Beware the monks as you would guard your life;
If in their snares a simple belle be caught:
The trap succeeds: to ruin she is brought.
To show that monks are knaves in Virtue's mask;
Pray read my tale:--no other proof I ask.
A hermit, full of youth, was thought around,
A saint, and worthy of the legend found.
The holy man a knotted cincture wore;
But, beneath his garb:--heart-rotten to the core.
A chaplet from his twisted girdle hung,
Of size extreme, and regularly strung,
On the other side was worn a little bell;
The hypocrite in all, he acted well;
And if a female near his cell appeared,
He'd keep within as if the sex he feared,
With downcast eyes and looks of woe complete,
You'd never suppose that butter he could eat.
Not far from where the hermit's cell was placed,
Within a village dwelled a widow chaste;
Her residence was at the further end
And all her store--a daughter as a friend,
Who candor, youth, and charms supreme possessed;
And still a virgin lived, however distressed.
Though if the real truth perhaps we name,
'Twas more simplicity than virtuous aim;
Not much of industry, but honest heart;
No wealth, nor lovers, who might hope impart.
In Adam's days, when all with clothes were born,
She doubtless might like finery have worn;
A house was furnished then without expense;
For sheets or mattresses you'd no pretence;
Not even a bed was necessary thought
No blankets, pillowcases, nor quilts were bought.
Those times are over; then Hymen came alone;
But now a lawyer in his train is shown.
Our anchorite, in begging through the place;
This girl beheld,--but not with eyes of grace.
Said he, she'll do, and, if you manage right,
Lucius, at times, with her to pass the night.
No time he lost, his wishes to secure:
The means, we may suppose, not over pure.
Quite near the open fields they lived, I've said;
An humble, boarded cottage over their head.
One charming night--no, I mistake 'tis plain,
Our hermit, favored much by wind and rain,
Pierced in the boarding, where by time 'twas worn;
A hole through which he introduced a horn;
And loudly bawled:--attend to what I say,
You women, my commands at once obey.
This voice spread terror through the little cot;
Both hid their heads and trembled for their lot;
But still our monk his horn would sound aloud
Awake! cried he; your favor God has vowed;
My faithful servant, Lucius, haste to seek;
At early dawn go find this hermit meek
To no one say a word: 'tis Heaven ordains;
Fear nothing, Lucius ever blessed remains;
I'll show the way myself: your daughter place,
Good widow, with this holy man of grace;
And from their intercourse a pope shall spring,
Who back to virtue Christendom will bring.
He spoke to them so very loud and clear,
They heard, though beneath the clothes half dead with fear.
Some time however the females lay in dread;
At length the daughter ventured out her head,
And, pulling hastily her parent's arm,
Said she, dear mother, (not suspecting harm)
Good Heavens! must I obey and thither go?
What would the holy man on me bestow?
I know not what to say nor how to act;
Now cousin Anne would with him be exact,
And better recollect his sage advice:--
Fool! said the mother, never be so nice;
Go, nothing fear, and do whatever's desired;
Much understanding will not be required;
The first or second time you'll get your cue,
And cousin Anne will less know what to do.
Indeed? the girl replied; well, let's away,
And we'll return to bed without delay.
But softly, cried the mother with a smile;
Not quite so fast, for Satan may beguile;
And if it were so, has taken proper care?
I think he spoke like one who would ensnare.
To be precipitate, in such a case,
Perhaps might lead at once to dire disgrace.
If you were terrified and did not hear,
Myself I'm sure was quite overcome with fear.
No, no, rejoined the daughter, I am right:
I clearly heard, dear mother, spite of fright.
Well then, replied the widow, let us pray,
That we by Satan be not led astray.
At length they both arose when morning came,
And through the day the converse was the same.
At night however the horn was heard once more,
And terrified the females as before.
You unbelieving woman, cried the voice,
For certain purposes of God the choice;
No more delay, but to the hermit fly,
Or it is decreed that you shall quickly die.
Now, mother, said the girl, I told you well;
Come, let us hasten to the hermit's cell;
So much I dread your death, I'll nothing shun;
And if 'tis requisite, I'll even run.
Away then, cried the mother, let us go;
Some pains to dress, the daughter would bestow,
Without reflecting what might be her fare:--
To Please is every blooming lass's care.
Our monk was on the watch you may suppose;
A hole he made that would a glimpse disclose;
By which, when near his cell the females drew,
They might, with whip in hand the hermit view,
Who, like a culprit punished for his crimes,
Received the lash, and that so many times,
It sounded like the discipline of schools,
And made more noise than flogging fifty fools.
When first our pilgrims knocked, he would not hear;
And, for the moment, whipping would appear;
The holy lash severely he applied,
Which, through the hole, with pain our females spied;
At length the door he opened, but from his eyes
No satisfaction beamed: he showed surprise.
With trembling knees and blushes over the face,
The widow now explained the mystic case.
Six steps behind, the beauteous daughter stood,
And waited the decree she thought so good.
The hypocrite however the hermit played,
And sent these humble pilgrims back dismayed.
Said he, the evil spirit much I dread;
No female to my cell should ever be led;
Excuse me then: such acts would sorrow bring;
From me the Holy Father never spring.
What never from you? the widow straight replied:
And why should not the blessing, pray, be tried?
No other answer howsoever she got;
So back they trudged once more to gain their cot.
Ah! mother, said the girl, 'tis my belief,
Our many heavy sins have caused thus grief.
When night arrived and they in sleep were lost,
Again the hermit's horn the woodwork crossed;
Return, return, cried he with horrid tone;
Tomorrow you'll have due attention shown;
I've changed the hermit's cold fastidious mind,
And when you come, he'll act as I've designed.
The couple left their bed at break of day,
And to the cell repaired without delay
Our tale to shorten, Lucius kind appeared
To rigid rules no longer he adhered.
The mother with him let her girl remain,
And hastened to her humble roof again.
The belle complying looked:--he took her arm,
And soon familiar grew with every charm.
O hypocrites! how oft your wily art
Deceives the world and causes poignant smart.
At matins they so very often met,
Some awkward indications caused regret.
The fair at length her apron-string perceived
Grew daily shorter, which her bosom grieved;
But nothing to the hermit she'd unfold,
Nor even those feelings to her mother told;
She dreaded lest she should be sent away,
And be deprived at once of Cupid's play.
You'll tell me whence so much discernment came?
From this same play:--the tree of art by name.
For seven long months the nymph her visits paid;
Her inexperience doubtless wanted aid.
But when the mother saw her daughter's case,
She made her thank the monk, and leave the place.
The hermit blessed the Lord for what was done;
A pleasant course his humble slave had run.
He told the mother and her daughter fair,
The child, by God's permission, gifts would share.
However, be careful, said the wily one,
That with your infant all that's right is done;
To you, from thence, great happiness will spring:
You'll reign the parent of what's more than king;
Your relatives to noble rank will rise:
Some will be princes; others lords comprise;
Your nephews cardinals; your cousins too
Will dukes become, if they the truth pursue;
And places, castles, palaces, there'll be,
For you and them of every high degree;
You'll nothing want: eternal is the source,
Like waters flowing in the river's course.
This long prediction over: with features grave,
His benediction to them both he gave.
When home returned, the girl, each day and night,
Amused her mind with prospects of delight;
By fancy's aid she saw the future pope,
And all prepared to greet her fondest hope;
But what arrived the whole at once overthrew
Hats, dukedoms, castles, vanished from the view:
The promised elevation of the name
Dissolved to air:-a little female came!