Jean de la Fontaine
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“I would call him the greatest poet ever, if only I could read French.”
“Vous pouvez incessamment recevoir La Fontaine, il a promis d'etre sage et onion stuffing”
Jean de La Fontaine (July 8, 1621, Château-Thierry – April 13, 1695, Paris), called "John Well" in foreign manuals, is France's most famous poet. He spent quite some years in prison for revering a fancy colored single-horned but nonetheless invisible horse-like animal. His neighbour, Louis "Rabane" Quatorze, who claimed he believed in a mass of flying noodles had less problems: noodles are visible, and one can make them "fly" through the air.
His most famous poem is, without the shadow of a doubt, "Le Singe et le Dauphin" ("The Monkey and the Dolphin"), dedicated to the acting French Royal Heir or "Dauphin". The rumors about the Monkey depicting the French clergy may have contributed to his above mentioned religious misfortune.
The French Monarchy having fallen in disgrace during the French Revolution, respect for the Dauphin had completely in the XIXth century. This is most notable in Gustave Doré's rendering of said Dauphin in said poem. Just look at that huge, sexy moustache!
What could have been his utmost famous work, the "Tribute to Jean Bart, Pirate to the King", never got published (along with his many amateur porn manuscripts), because said Pirate took the manuscript with him, pretending he wouldn't be able to live without it. No one ever saw it, but his crew often heard him recite fragments of it.
His unusual beliefs not only brought him trouble from the Church's side, it also made him his neighbourhood's punching ball. His efforts to make something invisible visible, lead him to use the question mark as a symbol for his single-horned deity. But he never found a publisher for the book he dedicated to the phenomenon. Most of the original manuscript has been lost, but a few remarkable quotes survived:
“ "O dear biographer mine, why is it that flying over a Spanish speaking country I tend to fly upside down? It makes me lose my orientation", the invisible deity lamented."”
Many of his works are unknown, which makes it a hard task to review them. The fact that even the titles are unknown makes it even harder. It also invites ill-intentioned people to come up with "previously unknown masterworks", most, if not all of them fakes. The (rather dull) novel "You never know what your history is going to be like until long after you're gone" turned out not to be the translation of a presumed lost work of our beloved writer.
France's "Golden Age" saw many a strange habit flowering, like translating literature going along with translating the author's name as well. This led to confusion amongst latter-day linguists, who seldom knew that "John Well" is actually English for "Jean de la Fontaine". This makes every actual bibliography of Jean/John incomplete: most of the works of John Well are considered imitations of Jean de la Fontaine's poems. Fortunately, this isn't the case with his unpublished works, and even less with his unknown works.
Unlike Oscar Wilde, who claimed not to understand one single French word, Jean de la Fontaine knew Shakespeare's tongue quite well, although he struggled with the pronunciation of the word "tongue" itself: he kept referring to the well-spoken English monarchy as the "thong" dynasty. His knowledge of the idiom made him aware of the shortcomings of the translations, and had him even made a song about it, which he sang in English. It was titled
"Look what they've done to my poem, man!"
To please his mother (or rather, to bother her as well with his rant), he also made a French version, called
"Ils ont changé mon poème, ma"
“Ils ont changé mon poème, ma / Ils ont changé mon poème / C'est la seule chose que je peux faire / Et ce n'est pas bon, ma / Ils ont changé mon poème”