World of Tales

La Fontaine's fables Page 13

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Education.

Lapluck and Caesar brothers were, descended
From dogs by Fame the most commended,
Who falling, in their puppyhood,
To different masters anciently,
One dwelt and hunted in the boundless wood;
From thieves the other kept a kitchen free.
At first, each had another name;
But, by their bringing up, it came,
While one improved upon his nature,
The other grew a sordid creature,
Till, by some scullion called Lapluck,
The name ungracious ever stuck.
To high exploits his brother grew,
Put many a stag at bay, and tore
Full many a trophy from the boar;
In short, him first, of all his crew,
The world as Caesar knew;
And care was had, lest, by a baser mate,
His noble blood should e'er degenerate.
Not so with him of lower station,
Whose race became a countless nation--
The common turnspits throughout France--
Where danger is, they don't advance--
Precisely the Antipodes
Of what we call the Caesars, these!

_Oft falls the son below his sire's estate:_
_Through want of care all things degenerate._
_For lack of nursing Nature and her gifts,_
_What crowds from gods become mere kitchen-thrifts!_

The Two Dogs and the Dead Ass.

Two lean and hungry mastiffs once espied
A dead ass floating on a water wide.
The distance growing more and more,
Because the wind the carcass bore,--
"My friend," said one, "your eyes are best;
Pray let them on the water rest:
What thing is that I seem to see?
An ox, or horse? what can it be?"
"Hey!" cried his mate; "what matter which,
Provided we could get a flitch?
It doubtless is our lawful prey:
The puzzle is to find some way
To get the prize; for wide the space
To swim, with wind against your face.
Let's drink the flood; our thirsty throats
Will gain the end as well as boats.
The water swallow'd, by and by
We'll have the carcass, high and dry--
Enough to last a week, at least."
Both drank as some do at a feast;
Their breath was quench'd before their thirst,
And presently the creatures burst!

_And such is man. Whatever he_
_May set his soul to do or be,_
_To him is possibility._
_How many vows he makes!_
_How many steps he takes!_
_How does he strive, and pant, and strain,_
_Fortune's or Glory's prize to gain!_

 

The Monkey and the Leopard.

A monkey and a leopard were
The rivals at a country fair.
Each advertised his own attractions.
Said one, "Good sirs, the highest place
My merit knows; for, of his grace,
The king hath seen me face to face;
And, judging by his looks and actions,
I gave the best of satisfactions.
When I am dead, 'tis plain enough,
My skin will make his royal muff.
So richly is it streak'd and spotted,
So delicately waved and dotted,
Its various beauty cannot fail to please."
And, thus invited, everybody sees;
But soon they see, and soon depart.
The monkey's show-bill to the mart
His merits thus sets forth the while,
All in his own peculiar style:--
"Come, gentlemen, I pray you, come;
In magic arts I am at home.
The whole variety in which
My neighbour boasts himself so rich,
Is to his simple skin confined,
While mine is living in the mind.
For I can speak, you understand;
Can dance, and practise sleight-of-hand;
Can jump through hoops, and balance sticks;
In short, can do a thousand tricks;
One penny is my charge to you,
And, if you think the price won't do,
When you have seen, then I'll restore
Each man his money at the door."

_The ape was not to reason blind;_
_For who in wealth of dress can find_
_Such charms as dwell in wealth of mind?_
_One meets our ever-new desires,_
_The other in a moment tires._
_Alas! how many lords there are,_
_Of mighty sway and lofty mien,_
_Who, like this leopard at the fair,_
_Show all their talents on the skin!_

 

The Acorn and the Pumpkin.

God's works are good. This truth to prove
Around the world I need not move;
I do it by the nearest pumpkin.
"This fruit so large, on vine so small,"
Surveying once, exclaim'd a bumpkin--
"What could He mean who made us all?
He's left this pumpkin out of place.
If I had order'd in the case,
Upon that oak it should have hung--
A noble fruit as ever swung
To grace a tree so firm and strong.
Indeed, it was a great mistake,
As this discovery teaches,
That I myself did not partake
His counsels whom my curate preaches.
All things had then in order come;
This acorn, for example,
Not bigger than my thumb,
Had not disgraced a tree so ample.
The more I think, the more I wonder
To see outraged proportion's laws,
And that without the slightest cause;
God surely made an awkward blunder."
With such reflections proudly fraught,
Our sage grew tired of mighty thought,
And threw himself on Nature's lap,
Beneath an oak, to take his nap.
Plump on his nose, by lucky hap,
An acorn fell: he waked, and in
The scarf he wore beneath his chin,
He found the cause of such a bruise
As made him different language use.
"O! O!" he cried; "I bleed! I bleed!
And this is what has done the deed!
But, truly, what had been my fate,
Had this had half a pumpkin's weight!
I see that God had reasons good,
And all His works were understood."
Thus home he went in humbler mood.

The Fool who Sold Wisdom.

A fool, in town, did wisdom cry;
The people, eager, flock'd to buy.
Each for his money got,
Paid promptly on the spot,
Besides a box upon the head,
Two fathoms' length of thread.
The most were vex'd--but quite in vain,
The public only mock'd their pain.
The wiser they who nothing said,
But pocketed the box and thread.
To search the meaning of the thing
Would only laughs and hisses bring.
Hath reason ever guaranteed
The wit of fools in speech or deed?
'Tis said of brainless heads in France,
The cause of what they do is chance.
One dupe, however, needs must know
What meant the thread, and what the blow
So ask'd a sage, to make it sure.
"They're both hieroglyphics pure,"
The sage replied without delay;
"All people well advised will stay
From fools this fibre's length away,
Or get--I hold it sure as fate--
The other symbol on the pate.
So far from cheating you of gold,
The fool this wisdom fairly sold."

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