Jean De La Fontaine

1621 - 1695 / Champagne / France

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't not a sin to drink?
Such conduct horrid ever I shall think;
I wish to prove, e'en saints in fear should live;
The truth is clear:--our faults may Heav'n forgive;
If dread of punishment, from pow'rs 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 lorn repair,
Where they, like Heav'nly Angels, moved around,
Some here, some there, were in concealment found,
Was quite delighted, strange as it may seem,
And presently she formed the frantick 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 meagre 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, ev'ry year, the palm in hand,
And, beaming round the head, a holy band,
Nice presents, flow'rs, and off'rings 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.
Heav'n guards from ill the maids and wives who fast,
Or holiness would very seldom last.
'Tis requisite to practise 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 ne'er 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 Rustick, 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 Rustick 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'st thou 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 'mong the Heav'nly 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 pow'rs 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 Rustick, 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 pow'rs divine;
We Satan instantly in Hell confine;
He was created for no other end;
To block him up let's ev'ry effort lend.

IMMEDIATELY within the bed he slid,
When, scarcely knowing what young Rustick did;
And, unaccustomed to the mystick 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 'mid pain and pleasure, she gave way,
Believing ev'ry 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 Rustick 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 e'en 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 mystick 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 Rustick 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 Rustick 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 ne'er 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 diff'rence make.
She took the hint, and he the fair received;
A handsome fortune many fears relieved;
This joined to num'rous charms that had the belle;
He fancied pure a most suspicious Hell,
And freely used the blessings Hymen sends;
May Heav'n like joys bestow on all our friends!
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