An argosy of fables/Spanish fables

An argosy of fables
Book 3. Part 3, Spanish fables




YOU must know that this ditty.
This little romance,
Be it dull, be it witty.
Arose from mere chance.

Near a certain enclosure.
Not far from my manse,
An Ass with composure
Was browsing by chance.

As he went along prying.
With sober advance,
A shepherd's Flute lying
He found there by chance.

Our amateur started,
And eyed it askance.
Drew nearer and snorted
Upon it by chance.

The breath of the brute. Sir,
Drew music for once;
It entered the Flute, Sir,
And blew it by chance.

"Ah!" cried he in wonder,
"How comes this to pass?
Who will now dare to slander
The skill of an Ass?"

And Asses in plenty,
I see at a glance
Will, one time in twenty.
Succeed by mere chance.

(Iriarte, Literary Fables. Translated by T. Roscoe.)


A BEAR, with whom a Piedmontese
Joined company, to earn their bread,
Essayed on half his legs to please
The public, where his master led.

With looks that boldly claimed applause.
He asked the Ape, "Sir, what think you?"
The Ape was skilled in dancing-laws
And answered, "It will never do!"

"You judge the matter wrong, my friend,"
Bruin rejoined, "You are not civil!
Were these legs given for you to mend
The ease and grace with which they swivel?"

It chanced a pig was standing by:
"Bravo! astonishing! encore!"
Exclaimed the critic of the sty,
"Such dancing we shall see no more!"

Poor Bruin, when he heard the sentence.
Began an inward calculation;
Then, with a face that spoke repentance.
Expressed aloud his meditation:—

"When the sly Monkey called me dunce,
I entertained some slight misgiving;
But, Pig, thy praise has proved at once
That dancing will not earn my living!"

Let every candidate for fame
Rely upon this wholesome rule:—
Your work is bad, if wise men blame.
But worse, if lauded by a fool.

(Iriarte, Literary Fables. Translated by T. Roscoe.)


WITHIN an old Cathedral hung
A mighty Bell,
Which never, save at Easter, swung
One solemn knell;
And then so sternly all around
Its echoes fell.
The peasants trembled at the sound
Of that big Bell.

Not far from the Cathedral stood
A Hermit's Cell,
And in its belfrey-tower of wood
A little Bell;
Whose daily tinkhng through the year
So faintly fell,
The peasants hardly gave an ear
To that small Bell.

The Hermit—he who owned the same.
And loved it well,
Resolved that it should share the fame
Of the big Bell;
So tolling it but once a year.
With one brief knell
He taught the peasants to revere
His little Bell.

And there are fools in vast repute
Who, strange to tell.
Acquire their fame by being mute
Like that small Bell;
These would-be sages rarely speak,
For they know well
That frequent utterance would break
The solemn spell.

(Iriarte. Literary Fables. Translated from the Spanish for Blackwood's Magazine.)


I'VE sometime read, I know not where,—
 For mem'ry's treacherous, all declare!—
With many a joke in doggerel rhyme,
The Ivy mocked the lowly Thyme,
Because he seldom reared his head,
But grew ignobly near a shed:
"Friend," said the Vine, "how comes it so?
Your thoughts are so debased and low?
For though your humble form can boast
The odours of Arabia's coast,
Of all the plants that grow around.
You are the nearest to the ground."—
"Friend," said the Thyme, "to gain the skies
I never wish like you to rise.
I lead an independent life.
Remote from care, unknown to strife.
Nor from another's aid profess
To owe the comforts I possess—
But, Oh! how changed your lot to mine
Should what you rest on e'er decline;
If yonder rude majestic Oak
Should fall beneath the woodman's stroke,
Or that vast tower to which you trust
Be crumbled into native dust.
Their ruin will involve your doom,
And I'll be left to shade your tomb."

(Iriarte, Literary Fables. Adapted from the translation by John Balfour.)


A SWORD, in famed Toledo wrought,
 That, tempered well, had nobly fought
In many a broil, and chieftains slain,
In various skirmishes in Spain;
From sire to son that long had passed,
Was doomed to feel disgrace at last!
Condemned, its owner in a jail.
To be exposed to public sale!
Thus, though oft drawn, by fate's command.
By many a firm and doughty hand,
It passed, by purchase in a lot.
To one its worth who valued not.
An honest quaker, mild of mien.
With whom it dwelt for months, unseen.
But, lo! it chanced one winter's night,
Anxious his kindred to delight.
Some game he ordered to be dressed.
And, as his spouse no spit possessed.
She, without any more ado.
Ran with the sword the lev'ret through.
And by a casual stroke of wit
The sword converted to a spit.
Now while this transmutation passed,
A new-made lord required in haste
A sword to dangle by his side,
And shew at once his rank and pride.
The wily cutler, who well knew
'Twas meant alone to strike the view,
And that if fine the hilt were made.
The peer would little heed the blade,
Begged a few days in toil to spend,
And he would home the weapon send.—
Meanwhile he searched his kitchen round.
And soon a spit neglected found.
That straight he polished, filed, and gilt.
And on it placed a splendid hilt.
And this, well-sheathed, he sent my lord.
And swore that, on a trader's word.
In all Toledo's city he
A finer sword would never see!
So well he spoke, that in a trice
The silly peer paid down the price.
Which rendered one as vile a cheat.
As was the other's folly great.
'Tis thus translators, servile wits,
Turn spits to swords, and swords to spits.

(Iriarte, Literary Fables. Translated by John Balfour.)


A GOOSE, with other poultry fed.
Inhabiting a farm-yard shed;
So vile a bird was never seen.
Her nest was litter'd and unclean:
If she had eggs, 'twould sure befall
She'd overlay and smash them all:
Or, if she ever hatched a brood,
She let them die for want of food:
Besides all this, from morn till night
She ate with monstrous appetite,
And yet, for all her stuffing in.
She still was naught but bone and skin:
To sell her for the smallest gain.
The farmer having tried in vain—
For none to buy a bird was willing.
That was not even worth the killing—
He turned her out, one dreary night,
To seek her fortune as she might.
The Goose, ere long, began to feel
The want of her accustom'd meal.
When, as she wander'd on, she heard
The voice of a melodious bird.
Who, with some others, sang a lay
In honour of the dawning day.
"Ha," mused the Goose, '"the thought will do—
Why should not I turn singer too?
No doubt my voice is sweet enough.
And art and science are all stuff!"
Waddling to where the songster stood,
She'd sing all day, she said, for food;
Spoke of her lovely voice, and then
Gave a long hiss, as specimen.
A sober Goldfinch was at hand.
Who on that day had led the band:
"Fool that thou art," he said, "to think
Upon such terms to eat and drink.
What!—thou—a Goose in ev'ry thing—
Dare to presume with us to sing.
Why there's no art, be what it will.
Demands such genius and skill.
Leave us to sing alone, I pray.
And seek thy food some other way."

(Iriarte, Literary Fables. Translated by John Balfour.)


THE Ant once showed the Flea, her neighbour,
 The results of all her toil and labour;
The whole construction of her dwelling.
Explaining every part and telling
The uses of each separate story;
The granary—the dormitory—
Showed how a task which numbers share
Made easy heaviest loads to bear.
The Flea, to all this information.
Vouchsafed no other observation
Than sentences like these:—"Ha—so—
I understand—of course—I know—
I see—'tis clear—quite obvious that—
I don't see much to wonder at."
"Then," said the Ant, "I wish you'd come
With me, my friend, and in our home.
For our advantage, let us see
A proof of your proficiency.
You speak in such a master-tone,
'Twill be no sooner said than done."
The Flea with impudence unshamed,
Cut a light caper and exclaim'd,
"Surely you do not mean to doubt
My skill to work such trifles out;
'Tis but t' apply one's-self—but stay—
I am busy now—another day."

(Iriarte, Literary Fables. Adapted from translation by John Balfour.)


A MOUSE one evening, as it stole
 In quest of plunder from its hole.
Exclaimed aloud (for Mice could speak
Of yore, though now they only squeak),
"What virtue is more lovely than
Fidelity in brute or man?
The Dog, who guards his master's store.
And drives the robber from the door.
Deserves the praise of every Mouse
That has an interest in the house!"

A Cat replied, "Thy praise should be
Bestowed as readily on me;
For, like the Dog, and with a zeal
As watchful for my master's weal.
Throughout the night I keep aloof
A host of robbers from his roof,
And guard from thee and thine the hoard
Of dainties that should crown his board."

On this the Mouse withdrew again
Into its hole, and answered then:
"Henceforth, since thou art faithful. Mice
Shall call fidelity a vice."

'Tis ever thus, for we commend
The smallest virtues in a friend;
While in a foe we should abhor it
And even damn the fellow for it.

(Iriarte, Literary Fables. Translated for Blackwood's Magazine.)


AS once a Linnet on a tree
Was piping like a lover's lute,
A Swan exclaimed, "All birds should be.
When I am nigh, entranced and mute;
For none can hope to vie with me,
A vocalist of such repute!

"It heeds me not, but warbles still—
Was ever songster half so vain?
The creature, with its tiresome trill.
May thank its stars that I disdain
To open my melodious bill,
And pour an overpowering strain!

"For if, as poets truly tell.
My very death-notes are divine.
My voice, of course, when I am well,
Is still more exquisitely fine.
And I could readily excel
That simple song by one of mine."

"I grant thy fame in former years,"
The Linnet answered, "but as thou
Art never heard by modern ears.
Thy song is deemed a fiction now.
And, like the music of the spheres,
A tale which moderns disallow.

"But give me, sweet one, I beseech,
A sample of that olden lay."
The Swan, too flattered by that speech.
To answer with a churlish nay.
Began to sing—but gave a screech;
The Linnet laughed and flew away.

Thus many a coxcomb with a name
For talents which he ne'er possessed,
On turning author, finds his fame
Unequal to the trying test,
And like the Swan, exposed to shame.
Becomes a byword and a jest.

(Iriarte, Literary Fables. Translated for Blackwood's Magazine.)


ONE day, as a Silkworm slowly spun
 Its delicate threads in the noon-tide sun,
A Spider cried, from its darksome nook:
"Look at my web, sweet sister, look!
I began it at dawn, 'tis hardly noon.
And yet my task will be ended soon;
For while thou spinnest thy life away,
I weave a web in a single day.
Examine it well, each airy line
Is as fine and fair as the best of thine."
"True," said the Silkworm, with a smile,
"But will they endure for half the while?"

(Iriarte, Literary Fables. Translated for Blackwood's Magazine.)


WITH a ravenous pack of Dogs at his back,
 A Rabbit fled—or flew;
For his course was as fleet as if his four feet
Were winged, like Mercury's two.
Away, away, in wild dismay,
He flew with all his might;
And his joy was vast, when he reached at last
A warren in his flight.

But ere he stole into his hole,
Secure from further fear,
A comrade, who spied the trembler, cried,
"What is amiss, my dear?"

"What is amiss? Why, simply this,"
He answered with panting breath,
"Those Greyhounds,—see?—have been chasing me,
Till I'm nearly run to death."

"Where, where?—But hark! I hear the bark
Of dogs upon your track;
But in faith you err, for there's not, good sir,
A Greyhound in the pack."

"Not a Greyhound?"—"No, for really, though
The difference is but small,
I see them now, and the Dogs, I vow,
Are Beagles, one and all."

"What! Beagles? Pshaw! the Dogs that I saw
Were Greyhounds, I'll be bail;
I am not blind, I know what kind
Of Dogs were at my tail."

"Why, but for your fright, no doubt you might
Have known with half an eye."
"I tell you, zounds, that they're all Greyhounds,
As much as you or I."

While words ran high, the Dogs came nigh
And nigher in pursuit.
Till unaware, they fell on the pair,
And settled the dispute.

Some authors discuss a question thus,
And like this foolish pair.
Expose their life in wordy strife
On trifles light as air.

(Iriarte, Literary Fables. Translated for Blackwood's Magazine.)


FROM their dwelling in a bog.
 Cried a Frogling to a Frog:
"Mother, see on yonder banks,
How the canes, in even ranks.
Lift their leafy heads on high.
Till they seem to touch the sky.
Tell me, have you ever seen
Any trees so tall and green—
Any that in stalk or stem
Would deserve to vie with them?"

But the words had hardly passed.
When an unexpected blast
Rushed and with a mighty blow
Struck the grove and laid it low.

Then, retorting from the bog,
To the Frogling said the Frog:
"Look, my child—a child may gain
Wisdom even from a cane—
Look and learn no more to prize
Objects for their gloss and size.
For each trunk that seemed to thee
Massive as a forest tree
Is as empty, frail and thin
As the vilest weed, within."

(Iriarte, Literary Fables. Translated for Blackwood's Magazine.)


AN Owl one morn—but sooth to say,
 I am not telling it aright;
For Owls are birds that love to stay
Within their secret homes by day,
And only fly by night,—

An Owl one night profanely flew
Into a church and chanced to see
A lamp or lantern—but the two
Are much alike, and one will do.
Whichever it might be.

And yet, methinks, anent the pair.
It was, if I remember well,
A lamp: but whether round or square.
Or made of glass or earthenware.
Is more than I can tell.

But there it hung, in pious proof
Of Catholicity, before
The Virgin's shrine—a thing aloof.
Just ninety feet below the roof
And nine above the floor.

The Owl, who felt at such a sight
His appetite for oil arise.
Swooped boldly towards it, but the light.
Alack! was too intensely bright.
And scorched his lidless eyes.

So, reeling backwards in despair,
He muttered, as he left the shrine,
"Oh, but for this terrific glare.
How gloriously would I fare
Upon that oil of thine!

"But trust me, Lamp, though now I flee.
If ever I shall chance to find
Thy flame extinct—with fearless glee
I'll glut my thirsty beak in thee,
Nor leave a drop behind."

(Iriarte, Literary Fables. Translated for Blackwood's Magazine.)


A GOAT with feet that danced and head that swayed
 In modulated measure to the sound
Of a sweet violin, which, deftly played,
Awoke the blandest echoes all around.
Had listened long, when, with an air of pride
He thus addressed a Horse which stood beside:

"These chords which speak so well, my humble friend,
Were borrowed from the bowels of a Goat;
And even I, when life is at an end.
May still survive to be a thing of note;
For then some artist of harmonic skill
Shall twist my tripe into as sweet a trill."

The Horse, as if in laughter, neighed aloud.
And answered thus: "Poor wretch! of what avail
Would be the simple chords which make thee proud,
Unless I had supplied them, from my tail,
With many a hair to form the fiddle-bow.
Whose movements make the hidden music flow?
"And though the loss may pain me, I'm content;
For, after all, it gladdens me to see.
While I am still alive, the instrument
Indebted for its harmony to me.
But say, what pleasure can its accents give
To solace thee, when thou hast ceased to live?"

(Iriarte, Literary Fables. Translated for Blackwood's Magazine.)


ONE day as a conceited Duck was waddling away from her pond, she quacked forth loudly: "What other race of creatures can boast so many gifts as we Ducks? Earth, air and water, all three are ours. When I tire of walking, I can fly if it suits me; or if I prefer I can swim."

A wily Serpent overheard the boasting speech of the clumsy bird, and full of contempt, glided up, exclaiming with a scornful hiss: "I think, Mrs. Duck, there is small reason for what you have just said. These boasted gifts of yours make a pretty poor showing, since you cannot swim like a trout, or run lightly and swiftly like a deer, or follow the eagle in his flight."

It is a mistake to think that there is merit in a little knowledge of many things. Aim to do well what you can do, if you want to stand high among your fellows.

(Iriarte, Literary Fables.)


IN cottage neat, of lowly race.
 Lived one who fabricated lace.
And near her, miserly and old,
A tradesman dwelt who worked in gold.
"Dame," quoth the jeweller one day,
"Tis strange to me that folks should pay
Such prices for thy lace per ell.
Whilst I so ill my fringes sell,
Though, by the village train, 'tis said.
Gold is more precious deemed than thread."
To whom the dame, "My friend, you'll find
To different views are men inclined;
Some in those articles delight,
Which taste and elegance unite.
While others, fond of pomp and show,
On finery their thoughts bestow;
Now if the lovely fair incline
My works to value more than thine,
Though I acknowledge it is said.
Gold is more precious deemed than thread.
From this the preference may arise.
Some neatness more than splendour prize.
And hence, my laces more admire.
Than all thy gold and silver wire."

(Iriarte, Literary Fables. Translated by John Balfour.)


A FROG, splashing in his native pond, was one day much annoyed by the cackling from a neighbouring hen-roost. So he hopped out of the water, and making his way straight to the nest of the worthy Hen, addressed her as follows:

"Good morning. Madam Hen, so it is you, is it, that's making all this noise? Then let me tell you that I think it very hard that fate has afflicted me with such a noisy neighbour. Pray tell me what all this chatter is about?"

"I have just laid an egg," replied the Hen, "and I wanted everybody to know about it."

"Only an egg!" sneered the Frog, "really is that all? Small reason, I must say, for so much fuss and boasting!"

"Only an egg, indeed! My good sir, what business have you to complain about my cackling when I have patiently borne in silence your everlasting croaking? If I publish abroad what I do it is because I know that I am useful. But you Frogs are worthless, idle, puffed-up breed who might far better hold your tongues!"

(Iriarte, Literary Fables.)


A SAGE old Thrush was once discipling
 His grandson Thrush, a hair-brain'd stripling.
In the purveying art.He knew.
He said, where vines in plenty grew.
Whose fruit delicious when he'd come
He might attack ad libitum.
"Ha!" said the young one, "where's this vine—
Let's see this fruit you think so fine."
"Come then, my child, your fortune's great, you
Can't conceive what feasts await you!"
He said, and gliding through the air
They reached a vine, and halted there.
Soon as the grapes the youngster spied,
"Is this the fruit you praise?" he cried:
"Why, an old bird, Sir, as you are.
Should judge, I think, more wisely far
Than to admire, or hold as good.
Such half-grown, small, and worthless food.
Come, see a fruit which I possess
In yonder garden; you'll confess.
When you behold it, that it is
Bigger and better far than this."
"I'll go," he said; "but ere I see
This fruit of yours, whate'er it be,
I'm sure it is not worth a stone.
Or grape-skin from my vines alone."
They reached the spot the Thrushlet named,
And he triumphantly exclaimed—
"Show me the fruit to equal mine!
A size so great—a shape so fine;
What luxury, however rare,—
Can e'en your grapes with this compare?"
The old bird stared, as well he might,
For lo! a pumpkin met his sight!
Now that a thrush should take this fancy,
Without much marvelling I can see;—
But it is truly monstrous, when
Men, who are held as learned men.
All books, whate'er they be, despise.
Unless of largest bulk and size.
A book is great, if good at all,—
If bad—it cannot be too small.

(Iriarte, Literary Fables. Translated by John Balfour.)


TWO Cats, old Tortoise-back and Kate,
 Once from a spit a capon ate.
It was a giddy thing, be sure.
And one they could not hide nor cure.
They licked themselves, however, clean,
And then sat down behind a screen.
And talked it over. Quite precise.
They took each other's best advice.
Whether to eat the spit, or no?
"And did they eat it?""Sir, I trow.
They did not!They were honest things.
Who had a conscience and knew how it stings!"

(Felix Maria de Samaniego. From Spanish Literature, by George Ticnor.)


GOOD-MORROW, friend," so spoke, upon a day
 A Caterpillar to a Butterfly.
The winged creature looked another way,
And made this proud reply:
"No friend of worms am I"
The insulted Caterpillar heard
"And what were thou, I pray.
Ere God bestowed on thee that brave array?
And answered thus the insulting word:
Why treat the Caterpillar tribe with scorn?
Art thou then nobly born?
What art thou. Madam, at the best?
A Caterpillar elegantly dressed."


A DEXTROUS Spider chose
 The delicate blossom of a garden rose
Whereon to plant and bind
The net he framed to take the insect kind.

And when his task was done.
Proud of the cunning lines his art had spun,
He said, "I take my stand
Close by my work, and watch what I have planned.

"And now, if heaven should bless
My labors with but moderate success,
No fly shall pass this way.
Nor gnat, but they shall fall an easy prey."

He spoke, when from the sky
A strong wind swooped, and whirling, hurried by.
And far before the blast
Rose, leaf and web and plans and hopes were cast.

(José Rosas Moreno.)


A SERPENT watched an Eagle gain
 On soaring wings, a mountain height,
And envied him, and crawled in pain
To where he saw the bird alight.

So fickle fortune oftentimes
Befriends the cunning and the base.
And many a grovelling reptile climbs
Up to the Eagle's lofty place.

(José Rosas Moreno.)


AN Ermine, a Beaver and a Wild Boar made up their minds to seek a better country, and set out on the search for some forests, lakes and woods, which had still preserved the beauty of their primeval purity. After a wearisome journey through deserts and over rocks and mountains, their eyes discovered in the distance a glorious landscape, with a profusion of woods, lakes, gardens and ripe fruit. The travellers were delighted at the sight, and did not at first notice that in order to arrive at their new-found Paradise it would be necessary for them to pass through a wide expanse of stagnant water, full of slime and snakes. The Ermine was the first to attempt a passage. Going delicately on the tips of his toes he made a few steps forward, but soon drew back, saying, with assumed indifference, "The country is certainly rich and beautiful, but it will not suit me. I would rather lose it all than soil the delicacy of my beautiful coat." The Beaver said, "Have a little patience, brothers; we live in scientific times you, know, and I am a first-rate architect. In two months I will guarantee to build you a bridge over which you may pass to our future home without fear of mud or snakes." "Two months, slow-coach," said the Boar, "why, we may all be dead before that: you are much too slow for me." And so saying, he plunged into the slime. Splash, dash, he had reached the opposite side, in spite of the mud and reptiles. And while shaking off the mud, he said to his ignorant companions, "Paradise is not made for cowards or coxcombs, but for the strong." We may all profit by this lesson.

(From Spanish Fables by Fernandez Cayetano. Translated by Margaret R. Cresswell.)