The Servant Girl Justified

A poem by Jean de La Fontaine

BOCCACE alone is not my only source;
T'another shop I now shall have recourse;
Though, certainly, this famed Italian wit
Has many stories for my purpose fit.
But since of diff'rent dishes we should taste;
Upon an ancient work my hands I've placed;
Where full a hundred narratives are told,
And various characters we may behold;
From life, Navarre's fair queen the fact relates;
My story int'rest in her page creates;
Beyond dispute from her we always find,
Simplicity with striking art combin'd.
Yet, whether 'tis the queen who writes, or not;
I shall, as usual, here and there allot
Whate'er additions requisite appear;
Without such license I'd not persevere,
But quit, at once, narrations of the sort;
Some may be long, though others are too short.

LET us proceed, howe'er (our plan explained:)
A pretty servant-girl a man retain'd.
She pleas'd his eye, and presently he thought,
With ease she might to am'rous sports be brought;
He prov'd not wrong; the wench was blithe and gay,
A buxom lass, most able ev'ry way.

AT dawn, one summer's morn, the spark was led
To rise, and leave his wife asleep in bed;
He sought at once the garden, where he found
The servant-girl collecting flow'rs around,
To make a nosegay for his better half,
Whose birth-day 'twas: - he soon began to laugh,
And while the ranging of the flow'rs he prais'd,
The servant's neckerchief he slyly rais'd.
Who, suddenly, on feeling of the hand,
Resistance feign'd, and seem'd to make a stand;
But since these liberties were nothing new,
They other fun and frolicks would pursue;
The nosegay at the fond gallant was thrown;
The flow'rs he kiss'd, and now more ardent grown
They romp'd and rattl'd, play'd and skipt around;
At length the fair one fell upon the ground;
Our am'rous spark advantage took of this,
And nothing with the couple seem'd amiss.

UNLUCKILY, a neighbour's prying eyes
Beheld their playful pranks with great surprise,
She, from her window, could the scene o'erlook;
When this the fond gallant observ'd, he shook;
Said he, by heav'ns! our frolicking is seen,
By that old haggard, envious, prying quean;
But do not heed it; instantly he chose
To run and wake his wife, who quickly rose; -
So much the dame he fondl'd and caress'd,
The garden walk she took at his request,
To have a nosegay, where he play'd anew
Pranks just the same as those of recent view,
Which highly gratified our lady fair,
Who felt dispos'd, and would at eve repair,
To her good neighbour, whom she bursting found,
With what she'd seen that morn upon the ground.

THE usual greetings o'er, our envious dame,
With scowling brow exclaim'd, - my dear, your fame,
I love too much not fully to detail,
What I have witnessed, and with truth bewail;
Will you continue, in your house to keep
A girl, whose conduct almost makes me weep?
Anon I'd kick her from your house, I say;
The strumpet should not stay another day.
The wife replied, you surely are deceiv'd;
An honest, virtuous creature she's believ'd.
Well, I can easily, my friend, suppose,
Rejoin'd the neighbour, whence this favour flows;
But look about, and be convinc'd, this morn
From my own window (true as you are born,)
Within the garden I your husband spi'd
And presently the servant girl I ey'd;
At one another various flow'rs they threw,
And then the minx a little graver grew.
I understand you, cried the list'ning fair;
You are deceiv'd: - myself alone was there.

NEIGHBOUR

But patience, if you please: attend I pray
You've no conception what I meant to say:
The playful fair was actively employ'd,
In plucking am'rous flow'rs - they kiss'd and toy'd.

WIFE

'Twas clearly I, howe'er, for her you took.

NEIGHBOUR

The flow'rs for bosoms quickly they forsook;
Large handfuls frequently they seem'd to grasp,
And ev'ry beauty in its turn to clasp.

WIFE

But still, why think you, friend, it was not I?
Has not your spouse with you a right to try
What freaks he likes?

NEIGHBOUR

But then, upon the ground
This girl was thrown, and never cried nor frown'd;
You laugh. -

WIFE

Indeed I do, 'twas myself.

NEIGHBOUR

A flannel petticoat display'd the elf.

WIFE

'Twas mine:

NEIGHBOUR

Be patient: - and inform me, pray,
If this were worn by you or her to-day?
There lies the point, for, if you'll me believe,
Your husband did - the most you can conceive.

WIFE

How hard of credence! - 'twas myself I vow.

NEIGHBOUR

Oh! that's conclusive; I'll be silent now;
Though truly I am led to think, my eyes
Are pretty sharp, and much I feel surprise
At what you say; in fact, I would have sworn,
I saw them thus at romps this very morn;
Excuse the hint, and do not turn her off.

WIFE

Why, turn her off? - the very thought I scoff;
She serves me well.

NEIGHBOUR

And so it seems is taught;
By all means keep her then, since thus she's thought.

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