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Pentamerone Day Two
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Day Five

                                                    THE SHE- BEAR
                                                        Day 2, Tale 6
                                        retold in rhyme 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.

And now, poor man, his thoughts turned where they had no right to go.
Preziosa is the image of her mother. That is so.
Why search the world when happiness is right at home? he said.
Our daughter, Preziosa, is the one that I should wed!

Preziosa learned the awful thing her father had in mind.
She wept and wept in deep despair. What answer could she find?
But then at night into her room there came her ancient nurse.
You may calm yourself. The cure you seek is here, inside my purse.

You’re beautiful. And now you must be brave as well as good.
She put into her hand a very special piece of wood.
Place this wood between your teeth and you will turn into a bear.
Then hide out in the forest. You’ll be safe and happy there.

Your fortune, which was wished for you the day that you were born,
is waiting for you, Preziosa. Do not be forlorn.
When all is well, remove the wood and you’ll change back again,
but use it with the greatest care and patience until then. 

The king arranged a feast so all could meet his chosen bride.
My daughter, Preziosa, is the one, he said with pride.
That very moment Preziosa bit down on the wood,
and where before a girl had been, a mighty she-bear stood.

The king and all his guests ran off in terror at the sight,
and Preziosa made her way unhindered through the night.
Next week into the forest came a young prince out to hunt.
Preziosa took one look at him and gave a happy grunt.

She loved him at first sight! But he was terrified of her.
She walked up to him gently. He bent down and stroked her fur.
He said, There, there, good bear! Good bear! and led her to his home.
He penned her in a garden so she’d have no chance to roam,

not that she would have done so. She was happy to be near
the prince who was to be her destined husband, it was clear.
The prince made sure his servants gave her special loving care,
and it pleased him to look out his window at his lovely bear.  

One day the court had gone away and no one was about
except the prince. So Preziosa took the wood piece out. 
She sat there in the garden. She was combing out her hair
when the Prince looked out and saw a pretty girl beyond compare!

He tumbled down the stairs and rushed to see who she might be.
But she had popped the wood back in, so all that he could see
was still the bear. Alas! he cried, What cruel tricks eyes can play!
He fell into a fever. In delirium he lay.

From time to time he cried out, Bear! His mother, in alarm,
could only think that in some way the bear had done him harm.
She gave the orders that the bear be killed at once. Instead,
the servants set her free and told the queen that she was dead.

To the prince they told the truth of what had happened while he slept.
I must go find her! howled the prince, and out of bed he leapt.
He found her in the forest. Come back home, my lady fair.
Who has locked so rich a treasure in the semblance of a bear?

Who has shut you up in prison? Let me gaze at you once more!
He led her back, but not into the garden as before.  
I do not know what kind of evil magic spell this is.
He installed her in a chamber that was right next door to his.

His doctors were bewildered. They predicted he would die.
His mother sat beside him. She said, Son, please tell me why.
What’s wrong? Is there some kind of cure of which we’re unaware?
There’s nothing can console me, he replied, except my bear.

If you wish to see me well then let the bear attend to me.
Let her make my bed and cook my meals and serve me up my tea.
His mother, though she thought him mad, saw nothing else to do.
The bear came in and felt his pulse and fluffed his pillows, too.

Two hens were brought, a fire was lit, and water set to heat.
She scalded one and plucked it and made chicken stew to eat.
The prince ate well and even licked his fingers at the taste.
The bear helped him to rise from bed by holding to his waist.

She made his bed and went to gather petals from a rose
to strew upon the covers. Said the queen, Well, heaven knows
she’s worth her weight in gold, and I can see why you are fond.
Fond? exclaimed the prince. But what I feel goes way beyond.

My lady mother, if I do not give this bear a kiss
the breath will leave my body. Yes, my life depends on this. 
So, seeing he would faint away, the queen cried, Gracious beast,
please kiss my son. Your kiss will make him happy at the least.

Preziosa then approached the prince and, being still a bear,
she kissed him once and kissed him twice, and kissed him here and there. 
But as she did the wood fell out. Her lovely self unfurled.
She lay within his arms, the greatest beauty in the world.

He pressed her to his heart and said, I’ve caught you, love, at last!
She blushed and said, I must be certain, prince. You go too fast.
Will you guard me safe and marry me? The prince inclined his head.
Now tell us what compelled you to this savage life you led.

Preziosa told the story which, just now, I’ve told to you.
The queen said, You are virtuous, and fairy-favored, too.
Try to brush away the past, for you and he will soon be wed.
Preziosa found her fortune as her ancient nurse had said.

Copyright © 2019 Laura J. Bobrow. All rights reserved