Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
The Miraculous Catch
By John Strong Newberry, trans.
From “Poems by Paul Fort”
Translated from the French

THE TIDINGS seemed so Heaven-sent—an uncle dead so apropos—my dear little Louis Eleventh was fain to properly express his glee and gain additional content with a modest fête; but intimately, in pleasant society.
  Master Tristan, all imagination, counseled a picnic in the plain, and as he blinked with his sly red eyes, “I consent,” said the king. “’Tis good advice. You’re an old villain, though, just the same.”
  Next day, ’neath skies of celestial blue, gay and content, my sweet little king, Louis Eleventh, with Tristan L’Ermite and their fair, frail friends, Simonne of the Chains and Perrette of the Treasure, together came to fish for the gudgeon that swim in the Seine, at the reedy foot of the tower of Nesle.
  Master Oliver, still a virgin, stands sentry near the river’s margin. He strides along his tedious beat, crushing the grass with careless feet. Agape in boredom’s black abyss, no consolation can he find. The fall of Buridan it is that occupies his mind.
  Simonne of the Chains, soul and heart fast bound to the heart and soul of her well-loved king, like a dainty water-lily bent above an ancient nenuphar, on her lover’s threadbare shoulder leant her bosom’s snows, her brow of milk, her little nose of swan-white silk; and, now and then, the gracious king, Louis of France, with a tender look, would bid his lovely handmaid bring a squirming maggot to bait his hook. Then ’twas with such a melting charm that into a small green box she poured one, ’twas with such a sweet and profound appeal that she gave the creature, all quivering, to that reclining king, her adored one, that Louis the impulse no more restrains, but kisses an ear (not the ear of the maggot but that of Simonne of the Chains) amorously whispering into its hollow meekly bent, “You shall be present when I call the Three Estates to Parliament.”        5
  Perrette of the Treasure (formerly King Louis’ light-o’-love, your pardon!—now bequeathed, a charming guerdon, to Tristan by royal clemency) was plump and fresh as a rambler rose, cheeks like a peach, ample bosom bare, where in duplicate glows the rising sun, each breast an orb but a pointed one, starred with grains of beauty ambulant (fleas I would say), whereon the gaunt Tristan from underneath his hood full often lets his glances brood. And when good Tristan, his line drawn taut, a fresher maggot would fain acquire, ’twas with a manner so languor-fraught the plump dame granted this slight desire, that, quite transported with Cupid’s blisses, he dropped his line her side to gain! The line, released, went flic, flac, floc, and sank beneath the Seine, while Perrette received on her neck, all warm, two or three hearty headsman’s kisses.
  Master Oliver, still a virgin, stands sentry near the river’s margin. He strides along his tedious beat, crushing the grass with careless feet. Agape in boredom’s black abyss, no consolation can he find. The fall of Buridan it is that occupies his mind.
  He saw with inattentive eyes, like a flower beside the river’s brim, a certain Master Villon skim the reeds in chase of dragonflies. From eyes ablaze with anarchy a side-long glance he sometimes sends towards the place where those boon-companions ply the angler’s art with their gentle friends. Master Oliver, still a virgin, having other fish to fry, that advent scarcely heeds. Vaguely he saw Master Villon disrobe among the reeds, but merely murmured in slumbrous tone, like one who speaks in dreams, “That naked gentleman is not unknown to me, it seems.”
  And Tristan L’Ermite landed naught. And Louis Eleventh landed naught. The maggots spun in vain, in vain. And Master François Villon, now swimming in mid-Seine, as he floated whispered to his brother fish: “Liberty forever! Don’t let yourselves be caught!”
  “Gossip,” said Tristan, “if you are good, and sage withal, I here engage to give you a pass, wherewith to break the cordon of the Scottish guard when I hang and when I decapitate.” Quoth Perrette of the Treasure, “A neat reward.” “And,” continued Tristan in merry vein, “if your heart does not bid you the fatal view shun, some fine spring morning you shall see the rapid and joyous execution of the virgin Oliver le Dain.” “I’ll be there, I’ll be there,” responded Perrette, clapping her hands with glee.        10
  “Peace!” cried the king, “or this turbot I miss.”
  “A turbot, seigneur, is a fish of the sea,” timidly ventured the tender Simonne. “With my mother I’ve sold full many a one in the market-place of Saint-Honoré in the time of my virginity.” “A fish of the sea, eh? Then that was why I missed him!” The monarch made reply, not disconcerted in the least!
  “Days that are o’er will return no more,” hummed Perrette, on her hose intent. “Yes, youth has only a single time,” Tristan intoned in hearty assent. Thereat the timid, the tender Simonne cooed to an air that is little known, “’Twas twenty years ago my mother died.” It needed only that—Tristan dissolved in tears. While the king, as he fished the wind, chanted stentorianly, “No, no, my friends, I do not wish a thing of naught to be.”
  And Tristan L’Ermite landed naught. And Louis Eleventh landed naught. In vain the tempting maggot spins. The esthetic gudgeons loud applaud, clapping their frantic fins. Applaud, no doubt, is figurative, but who knows what fantastic dream is truth—in the depths, where fishes live at the bottom of the stream?
  At the reedy foot of the tower of Nesle, those cronies good, headsman and king, in chorus sing like birds of the wood. And about their floats the little fish waltz as sweetly as heart could wish.        15
  Master Oliver, still a virgin, stands sentry near the river’s margin.
  Then suddenly Perrette smothered a laugh in her skirt. My sweet little Louis Eleventh, feeling his line drawn taut and heaving it up with ardor, a king-fisher had caught. “A wager,” Tristan said. Simonne, “A winged gudgeon,” cried. And Master Oliver halted dead in the middle of his stride.
  “On my word, the judgment was too empiric,” mused Villon, swimming beneath the stream. “To fish for a gudgeon and catch a bird … in the bourgeois soul of that curmudgeon mean somewhere survives the germ of a lyric!”
  And about their floats the little fish waltzed as sweetly as heart could wish.

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