An argosy of fables/French fables
A WOODMAN poor, all covered with his load,
Beneath the weight of Faggots and of Years,
Groaning and bent, his double burden bears
Towards the misery of his mean Abode.
At length outworn with utmost weariness,
He lays him down; he dreams o'er his distress;
What pleasure has he had since life began?
Is there another such a wretched Man?
Sometimes no bread, and never perfect rest.
Crushed by home cares, by taxes sore oppressed.
By debt, the Soldiers and the toil enforced;
He deems his lot of mortal lots the worst.
He calls on Death. She comes without delay.
"You summoned me," she cries; "What is't you lack?"
"Only to help me lift upon my back
This burden here," he says, "nor longer stay."
- Labor imposed as a tax.
ONCE Goodman Fox with great benevolence
Asked Gossip Stork to dine at his expense.
The fare was poor; in quantity not vast;
Our gallant, for the whole repast,
Produced a slender soup which—sad to state—
Was served upon an ordinary plate.
The Stork's long beak could hardly get a taste.
To be revenged upon this sinner.
The Stork in time invited him to dinner.
On such occasions it was not his way
To deal in vain excuses or delay;
The hour appointed came;
He scampered to the lodging of the dame
Who greeted him benignly.
The meal was cooked divinely;
His appetite was all a Fox's should be
Or could be.
The meat, cut up capriciously,
In little morsels, smelt deliciously.
But now—what puzzled much his wits—
Behold these dainty bits
Served in a long-necked Jar with outlet narrow.
Judge how it must his feeling harrow
To see the Stork's beak dodging in and out—
A thing impossible to Vulpine snout!
His hungry, homeward way he steers,
With tail between his legs, and drooping ears,
Feeling as much a victim
As if some common barn-door Fowl had tricked him!
(La Fontaine, Fables, Vol. I, No. 18. Translated by Paul Hookham.)
THE COCK AND THE PEARL
A COCK scratched up one day
A Pearl of purest ray
Which to a jeweller he bore,
"I think it fine," he said,
"But yet a crumb of bread
To me were worth a great deal more."
So did a dunce inherit
A manuscript of merit
Which to a publisher he bore,
"'Tis good," he said, "I'm told,
Yet any coin of gold
To me were worth a great deal more."
(La Fontaine, Fables, Vol. I, No. 20. Translated by Elizur Wright, Jr.)
THE OAK AND THE REED
THE Oak one day said to the Reed,
"Good cause have you your hapless lot to mourn.
To you a clinging Wren's a load indeed;
The least wind that is born.
Ruffling the stream, bids you take heed
To make obeisance low;
While my proud top, for Caucasus a match.
The arrowy sun-shafts not content to catch.
Braves all the winds that blow.
All's storm to you, all Zephyr calm to me.
Yet if you had but sprung beneath the shade
My branching arms have made,
Such wrong there would not be;
I'd shelter you, though tempests did invade;
But you I oftest find
On moist banks in the Kingdoms of the Wind!
Scant favour to your Race has Nature shown."
"Your pity," said the Plant, "I can but own
Kindly conceived. But give yourself no pain;
Such fears are vain;
Less dangerous are the winds to me than you.
I bend but break not. To this hour 'tis plain.
Since whole you stand, your mighty frame
Has served you to oppose
The utmost that these blusterers could do;
But mark the End." As these his words uprose,
A darkness o'er the horizon came;
Soon from that gathering frown
Sprang forth the fiercest Child
The North e'er nursed within his bosom wild;
The Tree holds firm; the Reed drops down.
With rage renewed sweeps on the Storm:
Lies low the giant form
Of him who reared his Heaven-neighbouring head
And whose feet touched the Empire of the Dead.
(La Fontaine, Fables, Vol. I, No. 22. Translated by Paul Hookham.)
THE COUNCIL HELD BY THE RATS
OLD Rodilard, a certain Cat,
Such havoc with the Rats had made,
'Twas difficult to find a Rat
With nature's debt unpaid.
The few that did remain.
To leave their holes afraid,
From usual food abstain.
Not eating half their fill.
And wonder no one will,
That one who made on Rats his revel
With Rats passed, not as Cat but Devil.
Now, on a day, this dreaded Rat eater.
Who had a wife, went out to meet her;
And while he held his caterwauling
The unkilled Rats, their chieftain calling.
Discussed the point in grave debate.
How they might shun impending fate.
Their Dean, a prudent Rat,
Thought best, and better soon than late,
To bell the Cat.
That when he took his hunting round,
The Rats, well cautioned by the sound,
Might hide in safety underground:
Indeed, he knew no other means,
And all the rest
At once confessed
Their minds were with the Dean's.
No better plan, they all believed,
Could possibly have been conceived;
No doubt, the thing would work right well,
If any one would hang the bell.
But, one by one, said every Rat,
"I'm not so big a fool as that."
The plan knocked up in this respect.
The council closed without effect.
And many a council have I seen
Of revered Chapter with its Dean,
That, thus resolving wisely,
Fell through like this precisely.
To argue or refute
Wise counsellors abound;
The man to execute
Is harder to be found.
(La Fontaine, Fables, Vol. II, No. 2. Translated by Elizur Wright.)
A BAT in his blind flight.
Rushed headlong into an old Weasel's hole.
Who hated Mice with all his heart and soul,
And straight made at him, furious at the sight.
"What! Have you dared to show your hateful face
Inside my house—
One of your mischievous, accursed race?
As sure as I'm a Weasel, you're a Mouse!"
"Spare me," said the trembling refugee.
"That really is not my vocation;
Some wretched slanderer, I plainly see,
Has wronged me in your estimation.
A Mouse?—Oh, dear, no! What? With wings, like me?
I am a Bird, I say.
Long live the feathered race, that skims the air!"
Such reasoning sounded fair;
Proof positive, it seemed, was there.
And the Bat went his way.
Some two days afterwards the stupid creature
Into a second Weasel's lodgings flew.
Who was at feud with all the feathered crew:
Again, by reason of his doubtful feature.
He found himself in peril of his life:
Rising to meet him, the Weasel's long-nosed Wife
Thought him a Bird, and was prepared to eat him.
Again he made his piteous protest heard:
"Oh, Madam, you're mistaken! I a Bird!
Why, you can't see!
What makes a Bird? Feathers, not fur, like me!
No—I'm a Mouse: Long live the Mice and Rats!
And Jove confound all Cats!"
So by his two-fold plea
The Trimmer kept his life and liberty.
(La Fontaine, Fables, Vol. II, No. 5. Translated by Rev. W. Lucas Collins.)
MASTER RAVEN sate perched on the top of a tree,
A cheese stuffed the beak of this sable marauder;
Allured by the smell, Master Fox came to see
What it was through the air spread so tempting an odour.
When thus he began: "Ah, Sir Ralph!—a good morning:
How charming you look, and how tasteful your dress!
These bright, glossy plumes, your fine person adorning,
Produce an effect which I cannot express.
Colours glaring and tawdry were never my choice;
When I view them, disgust is my only sensation:
If you join to that plumage a mellow-toned voice,
You're the Phoenix, I vow, of the feathered creation."
The Raven, cajoled, ope'd his beak of vast size.
To give his new friend a sweet sample of croaking;
In the jaws of sly Renard down dropped the rich prize;
Who then took his leave, with this lecture provoking:
"Honest Ralph, this conclusion the premises follows:
Give me leave your attention this maxim to press on:
He who flatters will cheat the vain blockhead who swallows.
At the price of a cheese 'tis a very cheap lesson."
The Raven, ashamed, swore a little too late.
Nevermore he'd be caught by so worthless a bait.
(La Fontaine, Fables, Vol. II, No. 15. Anonymous translation.)
ABOUT a home that Socrates was building
Arose discussion. None approved his plan:
The lack of moulding, panelling and gilding
Did little honour to so great a Man.
Then the façade was plain; and all
Agreed that the Apartments were too small.
To these objections, urged in courteous style,
Socrates answered with a placid smile:
"Such as it is, pray Heaven it be
Filled with true friends," said he.
(La Fontaine, Fables, Vol. IV, No. 17. Translated by Paul Hookham.)
THE HARE'S EARS
IT chanced that some unruly horrid beast
Had gored the Lion King;
Who, hot with wrath at such a monstrous thing.
Vowed to secure himself henceforth at least,
And issued strict command,
All creatures that wore horns should quit his land.
Goats, Rams and Bulls decamped that very day;
The Stags sought change of air;
Of all his long- and short-horned subjects there.
None lost an hour in getting safe away.
The Hare, a timid creature,
Caught sight in shadow of his poor long Ears,
And grew distraught with fears
Lest some might construe into horns that feature.
He sought the Grasshopper, his country neighbour:
"Adieu," said he, "my friend.
I'm off at once: I feel that in the end,
Under some false impeachment I shall labour:
My Ears will count as horns, you may depend.
Nay, even if I displayed 'em
Short as an Ostrich, 'twould be all the same;
Horns is their name!"
"Horns!" quoth his friend,—"they're Ears, as Heaven made 'em;
D'ye take me for a fool?"
"Horns they will be for all that," said the Hare,
"Plain as a Unicorn's by this new rule;
Protest nor prayer,
If I'm clapt up in jail, will serve me there."
(La Fontaine, Fables, Vol. V, No. 4. Translated by the Rev. Wm. Lucas Collins.)
A PERT young Mouse to whom the world was new
Had once a near escape, if all be true.
He told his mother, as I need tell you:
"I crossed the mountains that beyond us rise,
And, journeying onwards, bore me
As one who had a great career before me,
When lo! two creatures met my wondering eyes—
The one of gracious mien, benign and mild;
The other fierce and wild,
With high-pitched voice that filled me with alarm;
A lump of sanguine flesh grew on his head,
And with a kind of arm
He raised himself in air,
As if to hover there;
His tail was like a horseman's plume outspread."
(It was a farmyard Cock, you understand,
That our gay friend described in terms so grand,
As 'twere some marvel come from foreign land.)
"With arms raised high,
He beat his sides, and made such hideous cry,
That even I,
Brave as I am, thank Heaven! had wellnigh fainted:
Straightway I took to flight,
And cursed him left and right.
Ah! but for him, I might have got acquainted
With that sweet creature,
Who bore attractions in every feature:
A velvet skin he had, like yours and mine,
A tail so long and fine,
A sweet, meek countenance, a modest air—
Yet what an eye was there!
I feel that, on the whole,
He must have strong affinities of soul
With our great race—our ears are shaped the same.
I should have made my bow and asked his name,
But at the fearful cry
Roused by that monster, I was forced to fly."
"My child," replied his mother, "you have seen
That demure hypocrite we call a Cat:
Under that sleek and inoffensive mien
He bears a deadly hate of Mouse and Rat.
The other whom you fear, is harmless quite;
Nay, perhaps may serve us for a meal.
As for your friend, for all his innocent air,
We form the staple of his bill of fare."
Take, while you live this warning as your guide—
Don't judge by the outside.
(La Fontaine. Fables, Vol. VI, No. 5. Translated by the Rev. Wm. Lucas Collins.)
THE MULE WHO BOASTED OF HIS FAMILY
A BISHOP'S Mule made boast of his high birth;
Would talk forever of his mother's worth—
"My mother, who was once my lady's mare."
Much in her praise he told—
"She could do this,—and she had travelled there."
He almost thought that he deserved a place
By virtue of his race.
Among the great historic steeds of old,
And took it somewhat ill
That for a doctor's servant he was sold.
Grown old and poor, he had to turn a mill;
Then he remembered that, with all his pride.
He was a Donkey on his father's side.
(La Fontaine. Fables, Vol. VI, No. 7. Translated by the Rev. Wm. Lucas Collins.)
THE Tortoise had the boldness to declare
That for a Wager she would race the Hare.
The Hare pronounced it madness. "To restore
Your muddled wits," he said, "you ought to take
Two grains of clarifying Hellebore,
Gossip of mine." "Well, mad or not, I make
The Bet." The Bet was made; terms fixed; the whole
Amount agreed on placed beside the Goal.
The Umpire or the nature of the Stake
I know not: for the Distance—in four bounds
Our Hare had cleared it when, escaped the grip
Of panting Foes, he's given them all the slip
And doubling, set at fault the sorry Hounds.
Therefore to linger he was not afraid.
A moment sleeping, biting now a blade,
Round him a casual glance bestowing
Or listening which way the wind is blowing,
He leaves his Friend against old Time to race—
Who shuffles on at Senatorial pace
And, slowly hurrying, keeps the end in view.
He deigns not yet the Plodder to pursue,
Reflects what little glory is to get
Winning of such a rival such a Bet,
Considers it a point of honour due
Not till the latest moment to engage her.
Meanwhile he feeds, he dreams,
Muses on anything except the wager.
At last he sees she has almost
Attained the Winning-post:
Then like a flash across the grass he gleams.
In vain! His powers he has misreckoned
And comes in Second.
"The Stakes are mine, and who's fool now?" exclaimed
The Tortoise bold, with victory inflamed.
"My senses do I lack?
Such as I am, you see I've won;
How then would you have been outrun
If you had had a house upon your back!"
(La Fontaine, Fables, Vol. VI, No. 10. Translated by Paul Hookham.)
THE Lion once gave orders to proclaim
In the King's name,
That lying sick within his Cave,
Attacked by symptoms grave,
He called upon his Subjects to evince
Devotion to their suffering Prince:
Each Species should despatch a Deputation
By way of sympathy and consolation.
Therein he gave his promise to respect
The Envoys whom they should elect,
On faith of King that could admit no doubt;
And this was fairly written out.
As Passport good 'gainst tooth and claw,
A legal instrument without a flaw.
The Edict of the King was executed;
From various Species Spokesmen were deputed.
The Foxes all and some
Staying religiously at home
One of their Family explained the reason
Of what might have an air of treason:
"The footprints on the sand, he said,
"Of those who have their visits paid
Towards the Cave present an obvious track,
But nothing in the shape of coming back:
This certainly seems rather queer
And gives our Race some grounds for fear.
Although the King perhaps would kindly use us,
In this affair he really must excuse us.
The Passport looks all right—but then—
I see in fact
With Certitude exact
How people get within the Den;
But how a single soul gets out again
Is not so plain."
(La Fontaine, Fables, Vol. VI, No. 14. Translated by Paul Hookham.)
THE ANIMALS SICK WITH THE PLAGUE
ONE of those scourges which Heaven's righteous wrath
Invented for the crimes of Earth—
The Plague, if one must call
The visitation by its hideous name—
Down on the Animal world in fury came—
Death day by day to some, sore pain to all.
The love of life no more had power to move:
Food lost its relish; Wolf nor Fox
Prowled round the innocent flocks;
Fled from its sickening mate; there was no love,
And therefore no more joy.
The Lion held council and spoke out:
"My friends," said he, "this pest the Gods employ
To punish our misdeeds, I make no doubt;
Wherefore it seems to me
'Twere fit the greatest sinner of us all
Should sacrifice himself in expiation.
So to avert Heaven's wrath, and save the Nation.
You that read history know that in such case,
These acts of self-devotion find their place.
Let each examine them, as truth compels,
The tale his several conscience tells,
And so make revelation.
As for myself I candidly confess
To satisfy my greediness
I have devoured Sheep not a few,
Who never did me harm,—nay, now and then
I ate the shepherd too.
I will devote myself, I say again.
If needful; but I think the rest are bound
To make a clean confession first, all round.
Our earnest wish, I hope and trust, is
The guiltiest should pay this debt of justice."
"Sire," said the Fox, "you have too good a heart—
Such scruples show it;
But, as for eating Sheep—why, for my part,
I see no sin in that—the stupid brutes!
You do them too much honour, if they knew it,
As for the shepherd, if your taste he suits,
Why, I can safely say, by Nation's laws,
He well deserves to reap the righteous fruits
Of men's preposterous claim to hold dominion
Over us free-born beasts. That's my opinion."
So spoke the Fox; and flatterers hummed applause.
It was not safe to probe too close the offences
Of the great nobles there.
Tiger or Bear,
Against whose life there might have been complaints;
All for their deeds found very fair pretences,
Down to the very Dogs that chased a Hare,
To hear them talk, they were four-footed saints.
The Ass in turn advanced to make confession:
"I mind me once," said he,
When that the devil of hunger took possession
Of poor unhappy me,
I passed a grassy mead
Belonging to some monks, and in my need
(It was so tempting) I just took one bite—
A mouthful—I confess it was not right."
All with one voice cried out upon the thief.
A Wolf, who had some smattering of law,
Against the prisoner straight took up his brief:
"A mangy, thick-skinned brute as e'er I saw!
From him, my lords, no doubt,
Has all this public misery come about:
Rank felony! To eat another's grass!"
Plainly, the righteous victim was the Ass:
No expiation short of death! And straight
The wretch went to his fate.
As you have power or weakness at your back
The Court whitewashes you, or brands you black.
(La Fontaine, Fables, Vol. VII, No. 1. Translated by the Rev. Wm. Lucas Collins.)
WITH Milk-pail deftly cushioned on her head,
High-kilted petticoat, shoes stout and strong.
The good Perrette
Fast towards the neighbouring town to market sped.
Dreaming no ill, lightly she stepped along,
Counted the price that she would surely get
For that fine Pail of milk, and cast about
How she should lay it out.
First, she would buy a hundred eggs, from which
Three broods at least would hatch; she should get rich,
By care and pains, no doubt.
"So very easy it will be," she thought,
To raise the Chickens by my cottage door;
And Master Fox, he must be sharp indeed.
If he don't leave enough of my fine breed
To buy one Pig at least—it may be more.
My Pig will soon get fat, at no expense—
He must be pretty forward when he's bought—
And if I sell him fairly, as I ought,
My gain will be immense.
Then what should hinder me from being able
(Things are so cheap just now)
To put a Cow and Calf into my stable?
Then, when they join the village herd,
How nice to see them skip,—my Calf and Cow!"
And at the word,
She gave three skips herself—the Milk-pail fell—
And so at once farewell
To Cow and Calf and Pig and Chickens that would sell!
The mistress of this visionary store
Cast one sad glance around
To where her ruined fortunes soaked the ground,
Then turned and bore
Her empty Pail back to her Husband's door;
He would meet all excuses with a curse,
And very probably with something worse.
(La Fontaine, Fables, Vol. VII, No. 10. Translated by Rev. Wm. Lucas Collins.)
A COBBLER gaily sang from morn till night,
He had a heart so light;
Bent o'er his work, he carolled through its stages,
Happier than any of the Seven Sages.
His neighbour, on the other hand, whose wealth
Imposed on him eternal watchfulness,
(This was a great Financier), lost his health,
Sang little and slept less.
At daybreak, if he fell into a doze,
The Cobbler's piping brought it to a close;
Until at last the poor Rich Man complained
That Providential Care
Had not made Sleep a saleable affair,
Like meat or drink or aught by Money gained.
He sent for him whose song
Had worn him out so long:
"Now tell me. Master Gregory," he cried,
"What do you make a year?" "My faith," replied
The Cobbler with a smile,
"It is not, Sir, my style
To count like that; I scarce can look ahead
From week to week enough, if without fear
Of actual want, I can get through the year:
Each day provides me bread."
"Well, well, what do you earn then by the day?"
"Now more, now less; the mischief of it is
(And decent would our gains be but for this),
There are so many days that we must lay
Our work aside; they ruin us with fêtes,
Saints' Days, that is:—and Master Parson prates
Of some new Saint in every Sermon now."
The Rich Man smiled at this simplicity.
He said: "The case is hard, I must allow;
Take you these hundred Crowns, and carefully
Keep them laid by against a time of dearth."
This glorious sum to the poor soul appears
The total treasure that the bounteous Earth
Has in a hundred years
Produced. The Man of Mirth
Goes home, and in his cellar buries deep
The Crowns,—and with them all his peace of mind.
No singing now; his one thought is to keep
Securely that which troubles so Mankind.
Instead of his light sleep,
Dark fancies fill his breast,
Fears, false alarms, the tortures of unrest.
All day his eye is on the watch; all night
His ear is on the strain;
Suspicions rack his brain.
To save himself from going mad outright.
He runs to him his singing wakes no more:
"Ah, Sir," he cries, "my sleep, my songs restore
And take your Crowns again!"
(La Fontaine, Fables, Vol. VI] I, No. 2. Translated by Paul Hookham.)
ONE day a Rat, the smallest of his race,
Observed a mighty Elephant pass by
With all his Equipage, at solemn pace.
Upon the Creature's back, three stories high.
A Sultan glorious,
His Dog, his Cat, his Ape,
His Parrot and his wife—in fact, his House
Goes journeying along:
While people stare and gape,
The Rat was much astonished that a throng
Should congregate this mass to gaze upon.
"What! Does mere bulk," he says, "these fools impress?
As if to occupy more space or less
Were of true greatness the criterion!
What marvel in this awkward giant lies?
Are Children even frightened at his size?
I count myself, though little I may be,
Quite as important, morally, as he."
Much more, equally sage,
He would have said, but for a slight event.
Just then the Sultan's Cat
Sprang softly from her cage
And showed him, by one little argument,
The difference 'twixt an Elephant and Rat.
(La Fontaine, Fables, Vol. VIII, No. 15. Translated by Paul Hookham.)
AN ape and cat, in roguery and fun
Sworn brothers twain, both owned a common master,
Whatever mischief in the house was done,
By Pug and Tom contrived was each disaster.
The feat performed, in chimney-corner snug,
With face demure, sat cunning Tom and Pug.
By Tom were mice and rats but rarely taken,
A duck or chicken better met his wishes;
More than the rats Tom gnawed the cheese and bacon;
'Twas Pug's delight to break the china dishes.
And on the choicest viands oft a guttler,
Still made it seem the footman or the butler.
One winter's day was seen this hopeful pair
Close to the kitchen-fire, as usual, posted.
Amongst the red-hot coals the cook with care
Had plac'd some nice plump chestnuts to be roasted.
From whence in smoke a pungent odour rose,
Whose oily fragrance struck the monkey's nose.
"Tom!" says sly Pug: "pray could not you and I
Share this dessert the cook is pleased to cater?
Had I such claws as your's, I'd quickly try:
Lend me a hand—'twill be a coup-de-maître:"
So said, he seized his colleague's ready paw.
Pulled out the fruit, and crammed it in his jaw.
Now came the shining priestess of the fane.
And off in haste the two marauders scampered.
Tom for his share of the plunder had the pain.
Whilst Pug his palate with the dainties pampered.
Pug had the prize; Tom gained at least the learning,
That Pug loved nuts, and gave his friend the burning.
(La Fontaine, Fables, Vol. IX, No. 16. Anonymous translation.)
A VILLAIN Kite, whose Robber-life had spread
His fame around, and still the mischief grew,
Till all the neighbours heard his cry with dread,
And village children hooted as he flew.
Had seized at last a hapless Nightingale:
The Herald of the Spring, with piteous wail,
Begged hard for life. "Oh, gentle Robber, spare me!
I'm a poor meal for choice—
A wretched bird with little else but voice!
Don't tear me,
But rather hear me.
I'll sing of Tereus."—"Tereus? What was he?
Something to make a dainty dish for me?"
"Nay," said the bird, "he was a cruel king,
Whose evil love was my undoing;
List to the tuneful lay that I shall sing
Of his unholy wooing.
So sadly sweet, it charms each listening ear;
You, too, will be delighted when you hear."
"Truly," the Kite replied, "a likely thing!
A charming proposition!
I want a meal just now, not a musician!"
"Yet kings have heard me gladly."—"When a king
Has caught you," said the Kite, "then you can squall
For his amusement. I'm a Kite, you see;
Your music is ridiculous to me;
A hungry stomach has no ears at all."
( La Fontaine, Fables, Vol. IX, No. 17. Translated by the Rev. Wm. Lucas Collins.)
THREE Youths beheld with wondering eyes
A Man of Eighty planting Trees,
"To build were well, but at your age," said these,
"To plant is not so wise.
What good, in Heaven's name, can you devise
From such a task, unless indeed you live
To years by Patriarchs of old attained?
Why should your lees of life be strained
To furnish fruits that never can be yours?
Think only, you, of errors past;
Leave the high-soaring Hope, the Project vast,
To us the Young; of these the right is ours."
"It is not yours," the Old Man said. "The wine
Of Hope's precarious vintage mellows late.
Lasts little; and the withered hand of Fate
Juggles alike with Projects, yours and mine.
Our hold on life is equal—'tis so small:
For which of us may be the last to call
This general Light our own—the sunset hue
Or daybreak's soft betrayal into blue?
What single moment, as the moments speed
Assures that another will succeed?
Those who come after me will owe
To me the shade of Trees that here shall grow.
And must you then destroy
My only joy in life, another's joy?
That is a fruit which I can taste to-day
To-morrow taste perhaps,
Or e'en beyond the lapse
Of years; and I may see the dawnlight grey,
And the first beam that braves
The Earth's reluctant gloom, above your graves."
The Old Man reasoned well. One of the Three
Shipped to America, was lost at sea.
The second, hardly luckier than the first,
Inspired by thirst
For glory, on the field of battle quaffed
Instead Death's bitter draught.
The third engaged in peaceful husbandry,
And meeting thus the stroke of Destiny,
Fell from a tree he was about to graft.
The Greybeard mourned them. Vigorous yet and hale
He on their Monument engraved this Tale.
(La Fontaine, Fables, Vol. XI, No. 8. Translated by Paul Hookham.)
A SPARROW and a Cat were bosom friends
Contemporaneous as to age,
Their infancy,—on which so much depends—
They passed together; side by side were laid
The Basket and the Cage.
The Sparrow often would provoke the Cat:
The one employed his beak; the other played
At fighting with his paws,
Giving at most a half correcting pat,
And taking care in that
To sheathe the malice of his steely claws.
The Sparrow, less restrained and circumspect,
His playmate sharply pecked.
Sir Cat, wise person and discreet,
With much forbearance these attacks would meet:
'Twixt Friends there's no occasion to give way
To spitefulness or temper's sway.
Used to each other from the dawn of life,
Long habit served but to increase
Between these two the bonds of peace;
Mock battle never turned to real strife;
When lo, there came upon the scene
A Sparrow of the neighbourhood, who tried
To make a third
In this fraternity of Cat and Bird.
A furious quarrel now arose between
The feathered Rivals. "What!" Sir Raton cried,
"This Upstart with my Comrade play the Turk?
This stranger Sparrow come to eat up ours?
Not so. Of him at least I'll make short work."
With that, the rash intruder he devours.
"Now, really," says the Cat, "I never guessed
The flavour of this species was so nice!"
Alas, to that peculiar zest
The other Sparrow fell a sacrifice!
(La Fontaine, Fables, Vol. XII, No. 2. Translated by Paul Hookham.)
DAN CUPID'S all a mystery—
His Arrows, Quiver, Torch and Infancy;
'Tis not the study of an hour
Can trace the secrets of his power;
Nor to unwind the tangle do I boast;
My humble Muse can tell at most
How the small God by chance unkind
Came to be blind.
Whether for men this proved a curse or blessing
Is matter for a Lover's guessing.
Venus raged to see the cruel
Love with Folly on a day
Passed in sport the time away;
He had not then in any wise
Lost the use of his bright eyes,
But a quarrel rose and Love
Would have moved the courts above
To settle it in legal fashion;
But Folly in a fit of passion
Dealt him a blow of such despite
As plunged his pretty eyes in night.
"'OF HIM, AT LEAST, I'LL MAKE SHORT WORK.'"
Blotting of each shattered jewel.
Wretched Mother! Loud her cries
Lament the loss of Cupid's eyes,
Deafen all the Gods with this.
Jupiter and Nemesis,
Hell's dread Judges—every one—
Hear the clamourous plaint; her Son
Through jeering crowds his way would pick
Nor go a step without a stick:
Vengeance for this should not be spared;
The damage too should be repaired.
When all her tale the Gods had learned.
They passed their sentence. Ne'er again
Must Love and Folly part. The twain
Must walk henceforth in Friendship's grove
And Folly be the Guide of Love.
(La Fontaine, Fables, Vol. XII, No. 14. Translated by Paul Hookham.)
THE Elephant and Rhinoceros
Once on a time contended
For Sovereignty; they ended
By staking everything, for gain or loss.
On one decisive Combat in the lists.
A day for this they fixed, when news was brought
That some one had descried through cloudy mists
The Ape of Jupiter
Caduceus in hand, despatched, 'twas thought,
With Powers Terrestrial to confer.
This Ape, says history, bore the name of Gil.
The Elephant immediately concluded
That he was sent some mission to fulfil
Relating to the Contest; thus deluded
He waits on Gil, but finds him rather slow
In broaching what he has to say.
Sir Gil, however, in a formal way
Before his Majesty bows low.
His Majesty in expectation
Regards in mute inquiry the Legation.
But not a word. The interest he believed
The Gods must take in Quarrels such as his
Had no existence in the Sphere of Bliss;
No news of the affair had been received.
What matters it to Those on high
Whether an Elephant or gilded Fly
Battles? He must himself commence the theme.
"My Cousin Jupiter," he says,
"Will see in a few days
A glorious Combat from his Throne supreme,
And all his Court
Enjoy Celestial sport."
"What Combat?" says the Ape with knitted brow.
"What Combat? How?
Know you not that the biggest of the Brutes,
Myself excepted, with myself disputes;
Is going to war with great Rhinoceropolis,
Kingdoms, I think, not quite unknown to Fame."
"Truly I never heard the name
Of either place, that I can call to mind,"
Replies Sir Gil; "the fact is,
In Heaven 'tis not our practise
To pay much heed to matters of that kind."
Abashed and mortified,
The Elephant conceals his wounded pride.
"What then," says he, "your presence here invites?"
"I came," Gil answers, "to install
Two Ants in their just rights
As to a Blade of Grass they seek to share.
Our Providence takes thought for all:
No Earthly Power can shake its even hand.
Its equal current stem;
And as to your affair.
The Gods but weigh it as a grain of sand
For small is great and great is small with Them."
(La Fontaine, Fables, Vol. XII, No. 21. Translated by Paul Hookham.)
FAR out at sea
A Cargo of dried Sage met Madam Tea,
Sailing for France from China. "Ah, good day,
And whither bound, fair foreigner, I pray?"
"Europe, of course, my dear; I'm quite the rage
With all its population, low or high:
But pray, Madam Sage,
Where are you bound."—"Oh, China!"—"Really!— why?"
"I love the country—as I ought, indeed—
They know my value there;
At home they treat me almost like a weed:
Thank Heaven, the wind is fair—
China's the place where merit makes its way;
I'm going there—good day!"
THE CLOCK AND THE SUN-DIAL
A PERT young Clock began to shout
(He was just set up) to the Dial below—
"Well, what's the hour? I can't find out
From you." The Dial said—"I don't know."
"Then what's the use of your Dial-ship, pray.
If you can't tell folks the time of day?"
"I wait," said he, "for the Sun to shine;
Knowledge of time is his, not mine."
"Wait if you will," said the Clock, "but I
Have nothing to do with the Sun;
Just a turn of the hand, come once a week.
Is all the help that I ever seek
To keep me going—so perfectly
My hands in their courses run.
Hark! I'm going to strike—now listen to me—
One—two—three—four! That's just the time."
And, as the Clock beat out his chime
The Sun came forth in his brilliancy;
The clouds and shadows dispersed apace,
And the light shone full on the Dial's face,
It marked the time—'twas nearly five;
"My child," said the Dial, "you want repair;
You've always an answer ready to give.
But those who trust you will badly fare;
Take pattern from me, good youth;
When I don't see clear, I say I don't know,
I speak but little—you call me slow—
But what I speak is truth."
(Houdard de La Motte, Fables, Book III, No. 2. Translated by the Rev. Wm. Lucas Collins.)
HONOUR, FIRE AND WATER
ONCE upon a time Honour, Fire and Water set out to travel in company. As it was to be an expedition of pleasure and discovery, they foresaw the possibility of their getting separated on the road, and made arrangement by which, in such case, they might be sure of meeting again. Fire explained, that although in general he was visible enough, yet sometimes he was concealed from view. "But even if you miss my light," he said, "whenever you see smoke you will be sure to find me." Water also instructed his friends as to certain marks by which his whereabout could be readily ascertained—where the herbage was greenest, and the evening mists rose in the air. It remained for Honour to give his companions some clew of the same kind. But he confessed, with a sigh, that the only charge he could give them was to keep him constantly in view, and never lose sight of him at all. "Watch me," he said, "with the eyes of Argus; for if once you lose me, you will never find me more."
(From the French of Etienne Pavillon. Translated by the Rev. Wm. Lucas Collins.)
SOON as he felt the winter frosts begin,
A Hedgehog begged a Snake to take him in:
"'Twill be a deed of charity," said he:—
"I'm perishing with cold, as you may see;
In this great hole how lonely you will be.
All by yourself, till summer comes again!
So take me under cover—
I'm first-rate company, as you'll discover."
The Snake consented,
And very soon repented.
The Hedgehog proved a most unpleasant guest;
Curled himself up into a horrid ball.
Rolled here and there, with no regard at all
For his poor hostess, who could get no rest.
And even pricked her side
With those sharp-pointed quills upon his hide.
Vainly she made complaint:—
It was the brute's amusement so to do;
Such conduct would provoke a saint.
At last she said: "Behave yourself, or go!"
"Go!" said the brute, "Not I! I'm here at present.
And here I'll stay:
Go out yourself, if you find things unpleasant!"
In a companion one may find a master.
A solitary life is dull, you say;
Life with a Hedgehog is a worse disaster.
(Henri Richer, Fables. Translated by the Rev. Wm. Lucas Collins.)
THE ASS AND THE HORSE
AN Ape, past master in the graphic arts,
Had finished a great picture—something new;
The Animals, invited from all parts
Came to a private view.
His work the artist to their taste submitted;
It was a Horse—"Superb!" they all admitted,—
"Nature," they said, "has found a rival here!"
"Humph!" said the Ass—"to me that's not so clear.
Our friend has done a clever thing, of course.
But to my humble judgment it appears
That to have perfect symmetry, that Horse
Should have had longer ears."
(Antoine François le Bailly, Fables Nouvelles. Translated by the Rev. Wm. Lucas Collins.)
A LITTLE band of gamesome Apes, one day,
Met in the woods to play.
The game was this: one had to hide his face
Within a comrade's lap, while on his back
He stretched his paw out for the rest to smack;
Then he must guess who struck; and, in such case,
Guessed wrong of course.
Then they all grinned and screamed till they were hoarse.
Attracted to the sound,
A smart young Leopard sallied from his lair,
And with a gracious air
Bowed most politely round.
All trembled at his presence. "Pray," said he,
"Don't be alarmed; I'm a good-natured beast —
Don't stop for me —
I would not interrupt you in the least:
Nay, I've come here to-day
Quite in a friendly way.
To join your sports myself; so pray go on,
And I'll make one."
"Oh, Monseigneur! Your Highness is too good!
What! join in these rude sports with such as we?"
"Well, 'tis my whim—just now I'm in the mood;
Besides, my Highness takes a philosophic view
As to the rights of animals—don't you?
I go in for equality, you see;
The Apes, delighted, listened fast enough
(As fools will always listen to such stuff)
And with a general grin.
Took it all in.
So the blindfolded Ape held out his paw;
The Leopard smote—beneath the princely claw
Out sprang the blood. This time there was no doubt;
The poor Ape guessed who struck,
But held his tongue, limped off and cursed his luck.
His comrades feigned a laugh; the prince laughed out.
So, one by one.
The Apes made their excuses and were gone.
But muttered to themselves upon the way:
"Such games with princes are not safe to play:
Under the velvet paw.
Smooth as it looks, there always lurks a claw."
(Florian, Fables, Vol. III, No. 1. Translated by the Rev. Wm. Lucas Collins.)
THE RHINOCEROS AND THE DROMEDARY
A STRONG young Rhinoceros said one day to a Dromedary, "Please explain, my dear brother, why it is that fate treats me and my kind so unfairly! That creature called Man, whose strength all lies in his cleverness, seeks your companionship, houses you, cares for you, shares his own bread with you and thinks himself the richer so fast as your number increases. Of course I know that you lend your back to carry his burdens, his wife and children; I admit willingly that you are swift-footed, gentle, steady and indefatigable;—but the Rhinoceros is capable of the same virtues. I even think, if I may speak without offence, that the advantage is all on our side. Our horn and our thick skin would be of good service in battle. Nevertheless, Man hunts us down, despises us and hates us, forces us to flee from him."
"My friend," replied the Dromedary, "do not be envious of our lot. It is easy enough to serve Man, the hard task is to please him. You wonder why he prefers us to you; but here is the secret of this preference: we Dromedaries have learned to bend the knee."
(Florian, Fables, Vol. III, No. 4.)
HIS jewelled tail a Peacock was displaying;
Admiring Birds their compliments were paying
While from the neighbouring mere
Two Geese turned up their noses with a sneer:
They noted only his defects. Said one,
"What hideous feet! What legs to stand upon!"
"And then his voice!"
Remarked the other. "Of the two, for choice,
I think the Screech-Owl has the best of it!"
And each laughed loudly at the other's wit.
Up jumped a Diver: "Gentlemen," said he,
"You have discerning eyes:
Full three miles off that Bird's defects you see;
But let me tell you this:—
You have a voice and legs far worse than his,
Without his brilliant dyes."
(Florian, Fables, Vol. III, No. 16.)
"IT will be nothing"—so the thoughtless cry.
What time the storm hangs threatening in the sky;
"Why vex ourselves before the evil day?"
A stout Sea-Captain once, who knew no fears,
But lacked the prudence that became his years.
Resolved to put to sea:
What though the wind was high, the skies were wild.
Little recked he;
Vain was the Pilot's warning;
Still came the same reply, all danger scorning—
"It will be nothing"—and the Captain smiled.
A Parrot sat on board.
And caught the refrain of the Captain's word;
And all the while the good ship rushed ahead
"It will be nothing," still the Parrot said.
Long time by adverse winds the barque was tossed;
The course was lost;
At last they lay becalmed; short store of bread,
No land in sight, all hearts disquieted.
The Captain spoke no word;
"It will be nothing," still repeats the Bird.
And day by day the measured food ran short.
Till, as a last resort
(The crew were starving and no help was nigh),
Even the sailors' pets.
Macaws and Parroquets,
To still their hunger, all were doomed to die.
Sadly the Parrot sat and drooped his head;
"It will be nothing," feebly still he said.
Meanwhile his cage stood open on the deck—
He might have saved himself if he had tried;
At last they wrung his neck;
"It—will—be—nothing!" he gasped and died.
(Florian, Fables, Vol. III, No. 19. Translated by the Rev. Wm. Lucas Collins.)
AN old grey Parrot from his cage had flown,
And fixed his quarters in a neighbouring wood;
And there he sat, affecting quite the tone
Of modern connoisseurs, as nearly as he could,
And criticised with supercilious air
Each bird that warbled there.
Even the Nightingale's enchanting song
He found too long:
Besides her cadences were sometimes wrong.
As for the Linnet,
Her style was poor—there was no science in it,
Besides her voice was waning.
The Lark—well possibly, when she was young,
Had she enjoyed the advantage of his training
She might have sung.
In short, no bird could please him: when they chaunted,
He hissed so loud that they all stopped, quite daunted.
Tired out with such affronts, the birds one day
Approached him in a body. "Sir," said they,
"You always hiss and mercilessly flout
These poor attempts of ours;
You have a splendid voice yourself, no doubt;
For our instruction, just for once display
Your own superior powers.
The critic was embarrassed—scratched his head—
And slowly said:
"Ladies and gentlemen, the fact is this;
I don't sing much,—but I know how to hiss."
(Florian, Fables, Book IV, No. 3. Translated by the Rev. Wm. Lucas Collins.)
THE TWO BALD MEN
ONE day two Bald Men simultaneously discovered a piece of ivory gleaming brightly in a dark corner. They both sprang forward to pick it up. A quarrel followed, beginning with words and ending with blows. The victor lost, as might well be expected, the few grey hairs that he still possessed. The coveted treasure which he got as the prize of his victory was—an ivory comb.
(Florian, Fables, Vol. IV, No. 16.)
A YOUNG Flying-fish, discontented with his lot, said one day to his aged grandmother: "I don't know what I am going to do to escape death. Every time that I rise into the air I dread the claws of the sea-eagles; and when I plunge into the depths of the sea, the sharks attack me."
The older Fish replied: "My child, in this world if you are neither an eagle nor a shark you must quietly follow a narrow path, swimming high near the air, and flying low near the water."
(Florian, Fables, Vol. V, No. 20.)
TALKING among themselves one day.
The Animals, each in their different way
The Silkworm's skill were praising:
"How wonderous fine
She spins her thread! Such talent is divine!
And then the price they fetch is quite amazing!"
Only the Spider had some fault to find;
She showed a critic's view,
Putting in "Ifs" and "Buts" and not a few
Remarks that seemed to them quite out of season.
"Sirs," said the Fox, "you understand the reason?
Madam spins too."
(Florian, Fables, Vol. V, No. 12. Translated by the Rev. Wm. Lucas Collins.)
THE CAT AND THE LOOKING-GLASS
A CAT, perceiving a looking-glass on a lady's toilette-table, jumped up to examine it; but was struck with astonishment at perceiving, as he thought, one of his brethren, in a threatening attitude! Our Puss wishing to join company, finds himself stopped. Surprised, he concludes the glass to be transparent, and goes to the other side, finds nothing, returns, and again the intruder is before him. After a little reflection, lest the other should escape while he walks round the glass, he perches himself astride on the top, with one paw on either side, so that he can seize in any direction. Making sure of his prey, he inclines his head gently towards the glass, and catches sight of an ear, then of two. Instantly darting his claws to the right and left, he loses his equilibrium, falls, and has caught nothing. Without waiting any longer to find out that which he cannot comprehend, he forsakes the looking-glass, saying: "What do I care about penetrating this mystery? I had better return to the kitchen, and catch a mouse for dinner."
(Florian, Fables. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)
WITHIN Golconda's rich domain,
The royal elephants to train—
To be their tutor, is a post
All aim at, and are proud to boast.
An alien once to this was named;
And deeply was the measure blamed.
But still in murmured talk, for there
The injured must in silence bear.
Or right or wrong, the king's behest:
Submission there is ever best.
This stranger by the prince preferred.
Was of the base jack-pudding herd,
Who dance on ropes, or spin a sieve
By sorcery, as the clowns believe.
The juggler had from Europe brought
A dog so singularly taught.
So perfect in acquired lore.
His like had ne'er been seen before.
The prince, perceiving how the rogue,
With skilful care had trained his dog,
Judged he would better still succeed
With creatures of a nobler breed;
And now the elephantine band
Are trusted to the juggler's hand,
The sum of whose scholastic course
Was beating, starving, fear and force.
The whole he tried—but tried in vain;
A wretched end was all his gain.
The elephants, a generous race,
Scorn to submit to treatment base;
The master storms—their fury boils;
One round him his proboscis coils,
Whirls him through air in direful heat,
And tramples him beneath his feet.
This done; the elephants avenged,
From rage again to mildness changed.
An Indian next the charge obtained,
Whose kind respect their duty gained:
For kind respect was all his art;
And 'twas enough—it won the heart.
The docile troop behind him trod,
Obeyed his glance, and watched his nod.
The prince from thence a lesson took;
And, better than by many a book,
Was taught the sole successful art
Of governing a generous heart.
(Nivernois, Fables. Cadell translation.)
THE vintage o'er, unnumber'd troops
Cleaving the air in buoyant groups,
Of birds of passage, richly fed
Within our orchards, homeward sped.
Accomplish'd now the tedious flight,
They at their capital alight;
Where every eye, with flouting gaze,
The bold adventurers surveys.
Acquaintance, kindred, sire, and son,
Flick'ring and hopping, round them run:
And soon the crowd, from rudely peering,
With envious murmurs fall to sneering:—
"How sleek," they cry, "our travellers grow!
What health and bloom their aspects shew;
With stomachs thus so amply stor'd,
They may a longer fast afford.
Sure, when they took their flight in May,
They were as lank as we today.
This shews what sudden gain must rise
From trips to man's more clement skies."
The leader of the birds of flight
Returns; "So far, my friends, you're right:
Abroad, both grain and fruits abound,
And plenteous refuse there is found:
But to return unhurt, to shun
The storm, the snare, the deadly gun—
Here lies the hazard. Be so kind,
My gentle friends, to call in mind,
How many left this shore in May;
Then count the number here today.
By calculation thus alone
The profits of the journey's known."
(Nivernois, Fables. Cadell translation.)
THE BUTTERFLY AND THE BEE
ALL day long, from early morning, a Bee clung to a stalk of wild thyme, feasting on its nectar. A Butterfly, flitting from flower to flower and constantly changing her fickle mind and her pasturage, met the Bee on her homeward way in the evening. "Bless me!" said the Butterfly, "you are a faithful soul or else a very stupid one, to single out just one flower and devote the whole day to it,—all day long the same, same flower! Oh, my poor dear, when I saw you clinging to that wild thyme stalk from early morning until sun-down, I tell you frankly, I thought of nothing in the world but an Oyster sadly glued to a rock, without ever being able to change its home!"
"You are perfectly right," replied the Bee, "and I like the comparison, for it suits us Bees admirably. We have no desire to imitate the idle pleasures of you Butterflies. We are satisfied to be useful; and that is what Nature designed us for. Those Oysters, sadly bound to a rock, produce pearls, and we Bees, well, we make honey."
(Nivernois, Fables, Vol. 11, No. 7.)