Croesus and Laïs


Breakfasting after a romp in the hay,
“Tell me, Laïs,” said Croesus one day,
“Tell me: this palace, this vast estate,
These hangings, these ivories, jewels and plate,
The bank in the city, the mines in Spain,
Your flocks and forests, your fields of grain;
For wealth like this I have toiled and sweat,
Denied myself pleasure and sleep to get,
And now that I have them, am ready to die
And yet you are almost as rich as I,
And lively and blooming and young as well.
How do you manage it, Laïs, tell?”

“The answer is easy, my friend,” she said.
“All of these treasures were earned in bed.
You for your riches must cheat or subdue
Men just as cunning and greedy as you;
For every sixpence you win, no doubt
There is somebody else who must do without;
But I grow rich by loving and giving,
Grace, good humour and cheerful living;
And those who are able come here to buy
What to most mortals the gods deny.
It may cost a fortune to sleep with me,
But I give good value, you must agree.”

“Don’t think me rude,” said Croesus and smiled,
“But that is the point in question, child:
A night in your arms, no man denies,
Is the nearest he borders on Paradise;
But a night is a night and is quickly past
And things of value are things that last.
This talent of gold I lay at your feet
Might buy me a palace or furnish my fleet
Not that I grudge it, you understand,
But value is always a bird in the hand:
Love is a bird in the bush, they say,
And what is there left when he flies away?”

“Croesus, my dear, you may think it absurd,
But for one song of that exquisite bird,
Men much wiser and richer than you
Have ventured their lives and their fortunes too.
And since, as you say, you are growing old,
Which would you rather: my body to hold
One short night, or this gold to save
A thousand years in the thankless grave?
And now you must take your leave, I fear:
Lycos my poet will soon be here,
And the rule of this house, as you know, my sweet,
Is that my lovers never shall meet.”

“Lycos!” cried Croesus, “I think it hard
To pack me off for that beggarly bard,
Drunkard and scandalous rake as well;
What can you see in him, Laïs, tell?
But sure, you are teasing to hear me scold:
How would he come by a talent of gold?”
“The answer is easy, Croesus, my friend:
He shall have your talent to save or spend.
Beggar and wastrel he well may be,
But the Muses have blessed him as Venus me.
For a night in his arms and a song from his lips
My beauty shall outlast the world’s eclipse
And live in his verse, for the pleasure it gave
A thousand years of the thankless grave.”

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