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FIFINE AT THE FAIR

[1872]

DONE ELVIRE.

Vous plaît-il, don Juan, nous éclaircir ces beaux mystères ?

DON JUAN.

Madame, à vous dire la vérité. . .

DONE ELVIRE.

Ah! que vous savez mal vous défendre pour un homme de cour, et qui doit être accoutumé à ces sortes de choses! J'ai pitié de vous voir la confusion que vous avez. Que ne vous armez-vous le front d'une noble effronterie? Que ne me jurez-vous que vous êtes toujours dans les mêmes sentimens pour moi, que vous m'aimez toujours avec une ardeur sans égale, et que rien n'est capable de vous détacher de moi que la mort ? (Molière, Don Juan, Act 1ier. Scène 3e.)

DONNA ELVIRA.

Don Juan, might you please to help one give a guess,
Hold up a candle, clear this fine mysteriousness ?

DON JUAN.

Madam, if needs I must declare the truth, in short.

DONNA ELVIRA.

Fie, for a man of mode, accustomed at the court
To such a style of thing, how awkwardly my lord

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Attempts defence! You move compassion, that's the word Dumb-foundered and chapfallen! Why don't you arm your brow

With noble impudence? Why don't you swear and vow

No sort of change is come to any sentiment

You ever had for me? Affection holds the bent,

You love me now as erst, with passion that makes pale

All ardor else: nor aught in nature can avail

To separate us two, save what, in stopping breath,
May peradventure stop devotion likewise

death!

PROLOGUE.

AMPHIBIAN.

THE fancy I had to-day,
Fancy which turned a fear!
I swam far out in the bay,

Since waves laughed warm and clear.

I lay and looked at the sun,
The noon-sun looked at me :
Between us two, no one

Live creature, that I could see.

Yes! There came floating by
Me, who lay floating too,
Such a strange butterfly!
Creature as dear as new:

Because the membraned wings
So wonderful, so wide,
So sun-suffused, were things
Like soul and nought beside.

A handbreadth overhead!
All of the sea my own,
It owned the sky instead;
Both of us were alone.

I never shall join its flight,
For, nought buoys flesh in air.
If it touch the sea-good night!
Death sure and swift waits there.

Can the insect feel the better
For watching the uncouth play
Of limbs that slip the fetter,
Pretend as they were not clay?

Undoubtedly I rejoice

That the air comports so well With a creature which had the choice Of the land once. Who can tell?

What if a certain soul

Which early slipped its sheath,

And has for its home the whole
Of heaven, thus look beneath,

Thus watch one who, in the world,
Both lives and likes life's way,
Nor wishes the wings unfurled
That sleep in the worm, they say?

But sometimes when the weather
Is blue, and warm waves tempt
To free oneself of tether,

And try a life exempt

From worldly noise and dust,
In the sphere which overbrims
With passion and thought, why, just
Unable to fly, one swims!

By passion and thought upborne,
One smiles to oneself "They fare
Scarce better, they need not scorn
Our sea, who live in the air!"

Emancipate through passion
And thought, with sea for sky,
We substitute, in a fashion,
For heaven poetry :

Which sea, to all intent,

Gives flesh such noon-disport

As a finer element

Affords the spirit-sort.

Whatever they are, we seem:
Imagine the thing they know;
All deeds they do, we dream
Can heaven be else but so?

And meantime, yonder streak
Meets the horizon's verge;
That is the land, to seek

If we tire or dread the surge:

Land the solid and safe

To welcome again (confess!) When, high and dry, we chafe The body, and don the dress.

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O TRIP and skip, Elvire! Link arm in arm with me!
Like husband and like wife, together let us see

The tumbling-troupe arrayed, the strollers on their stage,
Drawn up and under arms, and ready to engage.

II.

Now, who supposed the night would play us such a prank?
That what was raw and brown, rough pole and shaven plank,
Mere bit of hoarding, half by trestle propped, half tub,
Would flaunt it forth as brisk as butterfly from grub ?
This comes of sun and air, of Autumn afternoon,

And Pornic and Saint Gille, whose feast affords the boon
This scaffold turned parterre, this flower-bed in full blow,
Bateleurs, baladines! We shall not miss the show!
They pace and promenade; they presently will dance:
What good were else i' the drum and fife? O pleasant land of
France!

III.

Who saw them make their entry? At wink of eve, be sure ! They love to steal a march, nor lightly risk the lure. They keep their treasure hid, nor stale (improvident) Before the time is ripe, each wonder of their tent Yon six-legged sheep, to wit, and he who beats a gong, Lifts cap and waves salute, exhilarates the throng Their ape of many years and much adventure, grim And gray with pitying fools who find a joke in him. Or, best, the human beauty, Mimi, Toinette, Fifine, Tricot fines down if fat, padding plumps up if lean, Ere, shedding petticoat, modesty, and such toys, They bounce forth, squalid girls transformed to gamesome boys.

IV.

No, no, thrice, Pornic, no! Perpend the authentic tale! 'T was not for every Gawain to gaze upon the Grail! But whoso went his rounds, when flew bat, flitted midge,

Might hear across the dusk, where both roads join the bridge, creak a slow caravan,

Hard by the little port,

A chimneyed house on wheels; so shyly-sheathed, began

To broaden out the bud which, bursting unaware,

Now takes away our breath, queen-tulip of the Fair!

V.

Yet morning promised much: for, pitched and slung and reared

On terrace 'neath the tower, 'twixt tree and tree appeared

An airy structure; how the pennon from its dome,
Frenetic to be free, makes one red stretch for home!
The home far and away, the distance where lives joy,
The cure, at once and ever, of world and world's annoy;
Since, what lolls full in front, a furlong from the booth,
But ocean-idleness, sky-blue and millpond-smooth?

VI.

Frenetic to be free! And, do you know, there beats
Something within my breast, as sensitive? repeats
The fever of the flag? My heart makes just the same
Passionate stretch, fires up for lawlessness, lays claim
To share the life they lead: losels, who have and use
The hour what way they will, applaud them or abuse
Society, whereof myself am at the beck,
Whose call obey, and stoop to burden stiffest neck!

VII.

Why is it that whene'er a faithful few combine
To cast allegiance off, play truant, nor repine,
Agree to bear the worst, forego the best in store
For us who, left behind, do duty as of yore,

Why is it that, disgraced, they seem to relish life the more?
Seem as they said, "We know a secret passing praise
Or blame of such as you ! Remain! we go our ways
With something you o'erlooked, forgot or chose to sweep
Clean out of door: our pearl picked from your rubbish-heap.
You care not for your loss, we calculate our gain.
All's right. Are you content? Why, so let things remain!
To the wood then, to the wild, free life, full liberty!"
And when they rendezvous beneath the inclement sky,
House by the hedge, reduced to brute-companionship,

Misguided ones who give society the slip,

And find too late how boon a parent they despised,
What ministration spurned, how sweet and civilized
Then, left alone at last with self-sought wretchedness,

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