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This poem is taken from PN Review 8, Volume 5 Number 4, July - September 1979.

How Girls Acquire Intelligence La Fontaine

There is a game, the pleasantest of all,
Which gives the player energy to play.
The thing I like about it is that brain
Is hardly needed, other parts do as well.
Now can you guess the game I have in mind?

You play yourself, we all do, beautiful
And ugly find an equal pleasure in it,
Equally suitable at any minute
Of day or night, can be played in the dark.
Now can you guess the game I have in mind?

Husbands can play, but that's not the best part;
There is more pleasure in it with a lover;
No need at all to have a referee,
The strokes do not give rise to disagreement.
Now can you guess the game I have in mind?

No matter. And no matter what it's called;
I will not bore you any more with jokes
But tell you a peculiar thing I've noticed,
That it produces what you might call thought.
This can be seen in any little fool.
So, before Liza studied in this school
She had about as much brains as a goose;
Sewing and spinning were her exercises,
Or at least that was what her fingers did,
Her mind had not the slightest part in it;
It couldn't have, because the mind of Liza
Could not become engrossed in anything:
She thought about as deeply as her doll.
A hundred times a day her mother called
"Why don't you go and find your wits, you gosling?"
Then the poor girl would shuffle off at once,
Almost in tears for shame, to ask the neighbours
Where to find symptoms of intelligence.
They laughed at her, then told her the best way
Would be, to look up Father Bonaventure
Who was believed to show a lot of them.
So off she went-the child had no more sense-
To call upon him, she was quite confused,
So much so that she thought it might be rude
To interrupt a gentleman like that.
"Why should he want to give me what he has
When I am only fourteen or fifteen?
Do I deserve it?" she wondered seriously.
Innocence suited her, she looked her best:
You might say love had nothing in his larder
Which promised better eating for a priest.

"O reverend", she said to the holy father,
"I've come to you because everyone says
That there are spare brains in this monastery.
Could I be given some and pay later please?
I'd like to have some but they must be cheap,
I cannot offer more than what I've got."
As she said this she tried to pull her ring
Off, but it stuck hard to her finger.
The reverend father said: "I tell you what,
Somehow we'll manage to give you what you want
Without you making any actual payment.
It can be just a deal between ourselves;
There is no sale when things are given away.
Come in; this way, and do not be afraid;
Everyone is at chapel and the doorman
Is someone that I can rely upon,
And bricks and mortar always show discretion."
She follows him: they go into his cell,
The reverend father throws her on the bed
And tries to kiss her. Throwing back her head
The poor child asks him innocently, "Is this
The way that other people find theirwits?"
 "O, certainly", replies his reverence.
With that he put his hand over one breast.
"Like that, too?" "Yes, what else do you expect?"
The good girl takes the lesson patiently.
He follows up his point, and bit by bit
Manages to insinuate his wits
Where they are needed; they fit perfectly
And Liza laughs to find it all so easy.
Five minutes later Bonaventure's back
With a fresh injection, even after that
He still finds he has one bit more to offer;
His charity is large and extends far.
"Well now", he asks her, "did you like the game?"
"It didn't take long for the wits to come",
The girl replied. Then asked him, as if worried,
"But if they go again?" "Then we must see;
There are some other tricks that I could show you."
"Oh no," says Liz, "it won't be necessary,
Let us make do with what we've tried already;
That poor device is good enough for me."
To Liz, in fact, the poor device seemed best.
The holy father did the same again,
He certainly was expert in the dance.
Then Liza made a humble reverence
And went away much wiser than she came.

Liza was thinking! What, can Liza think?
Yes, what is more, she is thinking up a lie
-For it was necessary to think of something
To explain how she came to be delayed.
After a day or two her friend Nanette
Paid her a visit; Nanette understood,
For she was clever and a girl like that
Easily sees what others have been at.
She managed Liza well enough to get
The story out of her in a few minutes:
Nanette could hear such stories without yawning.
Liz concealed nothing, all the details followed,
The entire mystery from point to point,
The father's intellectual dimensions,
The whole performance, with the repetitions.

"But you", she asked her friend, "tell me how you
Found your intelligence, when, and from whom?"
Anne answered: "Well, it was someone or other;
To tell the truth, I had it from your brother,
Who kindly gave me some one summer morning."
"What, him?; My brother Alan?" Liza cried,
"Alan my brother, that is a surprise!
He has no wits at all, how could he manage?"
"You silly girl", her friend said, "you know nothing;
Let me tell you that for that sort of thing
You do not have to be so very clever.
Don't you believe me? Then you ask your mother:
She is an expert and knows all about it;
And if you don't believe me, ask the neighbours.
You will soon learn: and everyone will tell you:
'Nothing like fools for giving people brains.' "
Liza decided to content herself
With this, and did not raise the point again.
You see, I knew what I was saying when
I said you can grow clever by this game.

translated by C. H. Sisson

This poem is taken from PN Review 8, Volume 5 Number 4, July - September 1979.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to
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