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DAPHNIS AND ALCIMADURA. Jean de La Fontaine

DAPHNIS AND ALCIMADURA. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

DAPHNIS AND ALCIMADURA. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

(An Imitation of Theocritus)

TO MADAME DE LA MESANGERE

Amiable daughter of a mother fair,
For whom a thousand hearts are torn with care;
Yours are the hearts whom friendship holds in fee,
And those that Love keeps firm in fealty.
This preface I divide ′tween her and you,
The brightest essence of Parnassus dew.
I have the secret to perfume for you
More exquisitely sweet. I′ll tell thee, then;
But I must choose, or I shall fail again:

My lyre and voice will need more power and skill;
Let me, then, praise alone a heart that′s still
Full of all noble sentiments,—the grace, the mind,
Which need no master but the one we find
Blooming above you. Guard those roses well,
And do not let the thorns o′ergrow, ma belle.
Love will the same thing say, and better, too;
Those who neglect him, Cupid makes to rue:
As you shall see. Alcimadure the fair
Despised the god who rules the earth and air.
Fierce and defiant, she roam′d through the wood,
Ran o′er the meadows, danced as none else could,
Obeyed caprice alone,—of beauty queen,
Most cruel of the cruel; she had been
For long beloved by Daphnis: of good race
Was the poor lad, who doated on her face,—
Loved for her very scorn—nay, more, I vow,
Than had she loved him with an equal glow;
Yet not a look she gave, nor word to cheer,
Nor his complaints would ever even hear.
Weary of the pursuit, prepared to die,
Down at her door despair had made him lie.
Alack! he wooed the winds;—she, blithe and gay,
Still kept her door shut,—′twas her natal day;
And to her beauty′s throne she spread fair flowers,
The treasures of the garden, and spring hours.
"I hoped before your very eyes," he cried,
"Had I not been so hateful, to have died.
How can I wonder that you do deny
This last sad pleasure of fidelity?
My father I have charged my heritage
To offer at your feet: the pasturage,
And all my flocks,—my dog, of dogs the best;
And my companions will, then, with the rest,
Found a small temple, where continually
Your image, crowned with flowers, shall ever be.
My simple monument shall be near it,
And this inscription on the stone I′ve writ—
′Of love poor Daphnis died. Stop, passer by!
Weep, and say he was slain by cruelty
Of fair Alcimadura.′" The Fates at last
Cut the thin thread, and his vexed spirit passed.
The cruel maiden came forth, proud and gay:
In vain her friends beseech her but to stay
A moment, on the course to shed one tear;
She still insulted Cupid, without fear:
Bringing that very evening o′er the plain,
To dance around the statue, all her train.
The image fell, and crushed her with its weight.
Then from the cloud thus spoke the voice of Fate:
"Love, and delay not: the hard heart is dead."
The shade of Daphnis raised its pallid head,
And on the banks of Styx stood shuddering;
While all vast Erebus, with wondering,
Heard to the shepherd the fair homicide
Excuse her cruelty and foolish pride.
But as to phantom Ajax Ulysses sued,
And Dido′s death the guilty lover rued,
So from the maiden′s shadow turned the swain,
And did not words of mercy to her deign.


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