World of Tales

La Fontaine's fables Page 10

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The Fox, the Flies, and the Hedgehog.

A fox, old, subtle, vigilant, and sly,--
By hunters wounded, fallen in the mud,--
Attracted by the traces of his blood,
That buzzing parasite, the fly.
He blamed the gods, and wonder'd why
The Fates so cruelly should wish
To feast the fly on such a costly dish.
"What! light on me! make me its food!
Me, me, the nimblest of the wood!
How long has fox-meat been so good?
What serves my tail? Is it a useless weight?
Go,--Heaven confound thee, greedy reprobate!--
And suck thy fill from some more vulgar veins!"
A hedgehog, witnessing his pains,
(This fretful personage
Here graces first my page,)
Desired to set him free
From such cupidity.
"My neighbour fox," said he,
"My quills these rascals shall empale,
And ease thy torments without fail."
"Not for the world, my friend!" the fox replied.
"Pray let them finish their repast.
These flies are full. Should they be set aside,
New hungrier swarms would finish me at last."

_Consumers are too common here below,_
_In court and camp, in church and state, we know._
_Old Aristotle's penetration_
_Remark'd our fable's application;_
_It might more clearly in our nation._
_The fuller certain men are fed,_
_The less the public will be bled._

The Eagle and the Magpie.

The eagle, through the air a queen,
And one far different, I ween,
In temper, language, thought, and mien,--
The magpie,--once a prairie cross'd.
The by-path where they met was drear,
And Madge gave up herself for lost;
But having dined on ample cheer,
The eagle bade her, "Never fear;
You're welcome to my company;
For if the king of gods can be
Full oft in need of recreation,--
Who rules the world,--right well may I,
Who serve him in that high relation:
Amuse me, then, before you fly."
Our cackler, pleased, at quickest rate
Of this and that began to prate.
No fool, or babbler for that matter,
Could more incontinently chatter.
At last she offer'd to make known--
A better spy had never flown--
All things, whatever she might see,
In travelling from tree to tree.
But, with her offer little pleased--
Nay, gathering wrath at being teased,--
For such a purpose, never rove,--
Replied th' impatient bird of Jove.
"Adieu, my cackling friend, adieu;
My court is not the place for you:
Heaven keep it free from such a bore!"
Madge flapp'd her wings, and said no more.

_'Tis far less easy than it seems_
_An entrance to the great to gain._
_The honour oft hath cost extremes_
_Of mortal pain._
_The craft of spies, the tattling art,_
_And looks more gracious than the heart,_
_Are odious there;_
_But still, if one would meet success,_
_Of different parishes the dress_
_He, like the pie, must wear._

The Lion and the Hunter.

A braggart, lover of the chase,
Had lost a dog of valued race,
And thought him in a lion's maw.
He ask'd a shepherd whom he saw,
"Pray show me, man, the robber's place,
And I'll have justice in the case."
"'Tis on this mountain side,"
The shepherd man replied.
"The tribute of a sheep I pay,
Each month, and where I please I stray."
Out leap'd the lion as he spake,
And came that way with agile feet.
The braggart, prompt his flight to take,
Cried, "Jove, O grant a safe retreat!"

_A danger close at hand_
_Of courage is the test._
_It shows us who will stand--_
_Whose legs will run their best._

The Fox, the Monkey, and the Animals

Left kingless by the lion's death,
The beasts once met, our story saith,
Some fit successor to install.
Forth from a dragon-guarded, moated place,
The crown was brought, and, taken from its case,
And being tried by turns on all,
The heads of most were found too small;
Some horned were, and some too big;
Not one would fit the regal gear.
For ever ripe for such a rig,
The monkey, looking very queer,
Approach'd with antics and grimaces,
And, after scores of monkey faces,
With what would seem a gracious stoop,
Pass'd through the crown as through a hoop.
The beasts, diverted with the thing,
Did homage to him as their king.
The fox alone the vote regretted,
But yet in public never fretted.
When he his compliments had paid
To royalty, thus newly made,
"Great sire, I know a place," said he,
"Where lies conceal'd a treasure,
Which, by the right of royalty,
Should bide your royal pleasure."
The king lack'd not an appetite
For such financial pelf,
And, not to lose his royal right,
Ran straight to see it for himself.
It was a trap, and he was caught.
Said Renard, "Would you have it thought,
You ape, that you can fill a throne,
And guard the rights of all, alone,
Not knowing how to guard your own?"

_The beasts all gather'd from the farce,_
_That stuff for kings is very scarce._

The Sun and the Frogs.

Rejoicing on their tyrant's wedding-day,
The people drown'd their care in drink;
While from the general joy did AEsop shrink,
And show'd its folly in this way.
"The sun," said he, "once took it in his head
To have a partner: so he wed.
From swamps, and ponds, and marshy bogs,
Up rose the wailings of the frogs.
"What shall we do, should he have progeny?"
Said they to Destiny;
'One sun we scarcely can endure,
And half-a-dozen, we are sure,
Will dry the very sea.
Adieu to marsh and fen!
Our race will perish then,
Or be obliged to fix
Their dwelling in the Styx!'
For such an humble animal,
The frog, I take it, reason'd well."

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