World of Tales

La Fontaine's fables Page 11

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The Countryman and the Serpent.

A countryman, as Aesop certifies,
A charitable man, but not so wise,
One day in winter found,
Stretch'd on the snowy ground,
A chill'd or frozen snake,
As torpid as a stake,
And, if alive, devoid of sense.
He took him up, and bore him home,
And, thinking not what recompense
For such a charity would come,
Before the fire stretch'd him,
And back to being fetch'd him.
The snake scarce felt the genial heat
Before his heart with native malice beat.
He raised his head, thrust out his forked tongue,
Coil'd up, and at his benefactor sprung.
"Ungrateful wretch!" said he, "is this the way
My care and kindness you repay?
Now you shall die." With that his axe he takes,
And with two blows three serpents makes.
Trunk, head, and tail were separate snakes;
And, leaping up with all their might,
They vainly sought to reunite.

_'Tis good and lovely to be kind;_
_But charity should not be blind;_
_For as to wretchedness ingrate,_
_You cannot raise it from its wretched state._

The Carter in the Mire.

The Phaeton who drove a load of hay
Once found his cart bemired.
Poor man! the spot was far away
From human help--retired,
In some rude country place,
In Brittany, as near as I can trace,
Near Quimper Corentan,--
A town that poet never sang,--
Which Fate, they say, puts in the traveller's path,
When she would rouse the man to special wrath.
May Heaven preserve us from that route!
But to our carter, hale and stout:--
Fast stuck his cart; he swore his worst,
And, fill'd with rage extreme,
The mud-holes now he cursed,
And now he cursed his team,
And now his cart and load,--
Anon, the like upon himself bestow'd.
Upon the god he call'd at length,
Most famous through the world for strength.
"O, help me, Hercules!" cried he; "for if thy back of yore
This burly planet bore, thy arm can set me free."
This prayer gone up, from out a cloud there broke
A voice which thus in godlike accents spoke:--
"The suppliant must himself bestir,
Ere Hercules will aid confer.
Look wisely in the proper quarter,
To see what hindrance can be found;
Remove the execrable mud and mortar,
Which, axle-deep, beset thy wheels around.
Thy sledge and crowbar take,
And pry me up that stone, or break;
Now fill that rut upon the other side.
Hast done it?" "Yes," the man replied.
"Well," said the voice, "I'll aid thee now;
Take up thy whip." "I have ... but, how?
My cart glides on with ease!
I thank thee, Hercules."
"Thy team," rejoin'd the voice, "has light ado;
So help thyself, and Heaven will help thee too."

 

The Heron.

One day,--no matter when or where,--
A long-legg'd heron chanced to fare
By a certain river's brink,
With his long, sharp beak
Helved on his slender neck;
'Twas a fish-spear, you might think.
The water was clear and still,
The carp and the pike there at will
Pursued their silent fun,
Turning up, ever and anon,
A golden side to the sun.
With ease might the heron have made
Great profits in his fishing trade.
So near came the scaly fry,
They might be caught by the passer-by.
But he thought he better might
Wait for a better appetite--
For he lived by rule, and could not eat,
Except at his hours, the best of meat.
Anon his appetite return'd once more;
So, approaching again the shore,
He saw some tench taking their leaps,
Now and then, from their lowest deeps.
With as dainty a taste as Horace's rat,
He turn'd away from such food as that.
"What, tench for a heron! poh!
I scorn the thought, and let them go."
The tench refused, there came a gudgeon;
"For all that," said the bird, "I budge on.
I'll ne'er open my beak, if the gods please,
For such mean little fishes as these."
He did it for less; | For it came to pass,
That not another fish could he see;
And, at last, so hungry was he,
That he thought it of some avail
To find on the bank a single snail.

_Such is the sure result_
_Of being too difficult._

_Would you be strong and great_
_Learn to accommodate._

The Head and the Tail of the Serpent.

Two parts the serpent has--
Of men the enemies--
The head and tail: the same
Have won a mighty fame,
Next to the cruel Fates;--
So that, indeed, hence
They once had great debates
About precedence.
The first had always gone ahead;
The tail had been for ever led;
And now to Heaven it pray'd,
And said,
"O, many and many a league,
Dragg'd on in sore fatigue,
Behind his back I go.
Shall he for ever use me so?
Am I his humble servant?
No. Thanks to God most fervent!
His brother I was born,
And not his slave forlorn.
The self-same blood in both,
I'm just as good as he:
A poison dwells in me
As virulent as doth
In him. In mercy, heed,
And grant me this decree,
That I, in turn, may lead--
My brother, follow me.
My course shall be so wise,
That no complaint shall rise."
With cruel kindness Heaven granted
The very thing he blindly wanted:
At once this novel guide,
That saw no more in broad daylight
Than in the murk of darkest night,
His powers of leading tried,
Struck trees, and men, and stones, and bricks,
And led his brother straight to Styx.
And to the same unlovely home,
Some states by such an error come.

 

The Dog And His Master's Dinner.

Our eyes are not made proof against the fair,
Nor hands against the touch of gold.
Fidelity is sadly rare,
And has been from the days of old.
Well taught his appetite to check,
And do full many a handy trick,
A dog was trotting, light and quick,
His master's dinner on his neck.
A temperate, self-denying dog was he,
More than, with such a load, he liked to be.
But still he was, while many such as we
Would not have scrupled to make free.
Strange that to dogs a virtue you may teach,
Which, do your best, to men you vainly preach!
This dog of ours, thus richly fitted out,
A mastiff met, who wish'd the meat, no doubt.
To get it was less easy than he thought:
The porter laid it down and fought.
Meantime some other dogs arrive:
Such dogs are always thick enough,
And, fearing neither kick nor cuff,
Upon the public thrive.
Our hero, thus o'ermatch'd and press'd,--
The meat in danger manifest,--
Is fain to share it with the rest;
And, looking very calm and wise,
"No anger, gentlemen," he cries:
"My morsel will myself suffice;
The rest shall be your welcome prize."
With this, the first his charge to violate,
He snaps a mouthful from his freight.
Then follow mastiff, cur, and pup,
Till all is cleanly eaten up.
Not sparingly the party feasted,
And not a dog of all but tasted.

_In some such manner men abuse_
_Of towns and states the revenues._
_The sheriffs, aldermen, and mayor,_
_Come in for each a liberal share._

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