(Recueil 3, Livre 12, Fable 25)
Subject taken from Ovid's Metamorphoses
For Monseigneur le Duc de Vendôme
Nor gold nor grandeur brings us happiness:
The wealth and fleeting pleasure we possess
From those unsure, fickle divinities
Are brief at best. Therewith our miseries,
Our agonies abide: vultures that pluck
At the poor son of Japhet, whose ill luck
It was to be chained to a cliff; whereas
The umble, lowly habitation has
No need to pay such tribute. There, peace-blessed,
The sage lives out his life and scorns the rest.
Roaming the wood, content with simplest things,
He sees, spread at his feet, minions of kings,
Of wealth possessed, and reads the eloquent
Proof-on the brows of those whose lives are spent
In empty luxury--that one must pay
Fortune for what she sells, not gives away.
And, when comes time to quit his life, it is
As if far evening bears that day of his
Off to its peaceful night... Well, Philemon--
Who with his Baucis dwelt-was such a one.
Couple much loving and much loved, they were
Devoted, she to him and he to her,
Since the sweet springtime of their youth; and love
Had turned their but into a shrine thereof.
Clotho took pleasure measuring out the thread
Of each; and, though long years they had been wed,
Their flame was not by time or marriage faded.
Each was the other's all; and both, unaided
By servant's hands, for two score summers, tilled
Garden and field, with soul deeply fulfilled
Thereby. But everything in time grows old.
Furrows wrinkled their brows; and, though not cold,
Their passion cooled a bit. Friendship became
Its surrogate, and yet could heat to flame
When love's darts pricked it ho...Now then, their town
Was filled with folk of scurrilous renown--
Cold and hard-hearted--such that Jupiter
Decides to purge the earth of them. Demur
He will not. Leaving, rather, then and there,
With his son, quick of tongue, he rends the air...
Arrives... The pair, decked out in pilgrim guise,
Knock on a thousand doors: no one replies.
Not one! And, as the gods prepare to qui
Such a vile, shameful place, lo! their eyes hit
Upon a humble hut, off from the road,
That seems an honest, welcoming abode,
Free of disgrace. Whereat god Mercury--
The son, eloquent one (for it was he)--
Wishing to try once more, knocks on the door.
It opens in a trice...Standing before
Our pilgrim-gods, good Philemon declares:
"Methinks you travel far. The thoroughfare's
Journey has tired you both, no doubt. Come, rest.
We have but little, but it is the best
That we can offer you. Alas, messieurs,
Gone is the wondrous day when Jupiter,
Though carved of wood, heeded our every prayer!
Now that they fashion him of gold, we fare
Far worse! Deaf is he to our pleas, I fear!"
Then, to his Baucis: "Go, make haste my dear
And warm the water for our guests, though we
Are not so quick as once we used to be."
Blowing the charcoal embers back to life,
Slowly, laboriously, his gentle wife
Obeys. They wash the travelers' feet and ask
Their pardon for the slowness of the task.
Philemon speaks to them the while, but not
Of grandeur, gaming, wealth--the kingly lot.
Rather he talks of pleasures innocent
And rare, in woods, fields, orchards, sweetly spent.
Meantime, Baucis the rustic meal lays out
Upon a rough-hewn table, wrought without
Compass or such, one of whose legs--ill-starred,
Wracked too by time--was held firm by a shard
Of earthenware, time-wracked as well. (At least
So it was said.) A cloth, for solemn feast
Reserverd--worn, flower-spread--had but a bit
Of Ceres'bounty fair to cover it;
A little milk as well. Our voyageurs
Divine, most thirsty from their travels, were
Content to mis their lowly country wine
With a stream's waters, pure and crystalline.
But as they do, behold! The more they pour,
The more the jug contains! Kneeling before
The godly pair, Baucis and Philemon
Know that a miracle has here been done!
The veil is lifted from their eyes, and there
Stands Jupiter, dark-browed, with that fierce air
That shakes the skies from pole to pole. "Pray, sire,"
Begs Philemon, "spare us your holy ire
At our most modest welcome! How could we
Have dreamed that such as Your Divinity
Would be our guest? The food we offered you
Was paltry, sire, at best. Still, thereunto,
Even if we were kings, how could we serve
What you, the masters of the world, deserve?
True, it came from the heart. But finer yet
The gods expect. And surely they would whet
Their appetite not on the heart's intent
Sincere, but on more worldly nourishment.
Baucis, my love, "he asks, "what worthier fare
Can we yet offer them? Pray, go prepare
As best you can!" Out in the garden she
Had kept a partridge, and has tenderly
Raised it since birth. She gives it chase; but it
Flees from her trembling grasp and, t o outwit
Her vain pursuit, perches betwixt the knees
Of Jupiter himself, as he decrees
The town's demise, decides the time has come
To cast his shadow over sinnerdom.
Down from the mountains roll the shades, and spill
Over the valleys. Now the two gods will
Quit the abode and lead therfrom their pair
Of hosts. Cries Jove: "No longer will I bear
The ills this race commits! Now shall it be
Destroyed. Come", say the god. "You, Mercury,
Summon the winds. And you, iniquitous,
Foul folk, who closed your homes and hearts to us,
Be now undone!" As thus he spoke, a gale
Bellowed across the plain. The couple, frail
And bent with years, followed as best they could,
Tottering, each, with a slim cane of wood
To lean upon, until, by both the grace
Of the two gods--and fright!--they reach the place
Proposed: a hill hard by. The pair peer down,
Watch as a hundrer clouds lash at the town
Below, unleash their wrath, go crashing, sweep
Off in a flood divine, all in a heap--
Acolytes of the gods--people, beasts, trees,
Houses, and orchards, till no trace of these,
Or those, or anything at all remains.
In secret Baucis weeps; the havoc pains
And grieves her. What? That beasts should suffer so?
Just was the peopl's punishment. But oh!
Innocent beasts as well? Meanwhile, in but
An instant, lo! the thatched roof of their hut
Turns to a glistening golg before their eyes,
With marbled pillars rising to the skies,
Gleaming in all its new magnificence;
And, painted on the wainscot, the events
I have described, traced by no mortal hand--
No Zeuxis, no Apelles, or their band
Of human limners! Awed, confounded, our
Husband and wife, thinking some godly power
Has brought them to Olympus, say: "Might we,
Your humble servants, have such purity
Of hand and heart, that we, in priestly wise,
May bring to you, O Jove, the prayers, the cries,
The pleas of simple pilgrims!" Whereupon
The god grants their request; whence Philemon
Makes yet one more: "Would that our mortal tether
Come to an end, my wife's and mine, together,
Serving you altars. No more could we ask
Of Clotho tan this final twofold task!
I should not mourn my Baucis, and her tears
Would irk you not." Jupiter listens, hears,
Agrees...Now let me tell you, if I dare,
A fact hard to believe. One day, as there
They sat--our saintly pair, that is--before
The temple gate, as pilgrims more and more
astounded, listened, Philemon said: "This
Has not forever been an edifice
Unto the gods immortal. No! It was
Surrounded by a city without laws;
A foul, barbaric place, whose people scorned
The very gods, and who--undone, unmourned--
Knew wrath celestial! And we two are all
That still remains. Herein each sacred wall
Recounts the tale, and what is yet to be,
Painted by Jove himself..."As lovingly
He spoke, he cast now and again a glance
At Baucis, who, motionless in her stance,
Was turning to a tree, har arms outspread.
It not please you enough. Apollo had--
Or so, at least, they tell us--promptly bade
Her and her sister Muses to convey
That sacred valley to your fair Anet.
And so they did. Now may we long give thanks
In the shade of the boughs that line its banks!
May they lift up their verdant brows, anon,
As once did Baucis and her Philemon!
Jean de La Fontaine