THE SHE-BEAR
Day 2, Tale # 6 of Giambattista Basile’s “Il Pentamerone”
retold in narrative verse by Laura J. Bobrow


A king once had a wife who was exceptionally fair.
She had a fatal illness and she made her husband swear
he would never marry anyone less beautiful than she.
“Oh, no!  Oh, no!”  he cried, “There’ll be no second wife for me.

Drive that worry from your mind.  I promise.  Have no fears.”
She died, and he lamented her with groans and shrieks and tears.
Then gradually, as time went by, though he was still bereft,
he thought, “She’s gone, and here I am with only one child left.

Our daughter, Preziosa, is a lovely child, and rare.
But what if I should perish and not leave a son and heir?
I must seek out a mate of equal beauty to my wife.
Where shall I look and where find such a person in this life?”

He commanded every woman in his kingdom to be seen
if she thought that she was beautiful enough to be his queen.
Next day by noon the line of queenly hopefuls was immense.
What woman’s not persuaded of her own magnificence?

The king, to give him credit, saw each one who came to call,
wry-browed, long-nosed, broad-mouthed, too fat or even far too tall.
A birthmark here.  A thin lip there.  He sent them all away
and was left with not a single one at closing of the day.