World of Tales

La Fontaine's fables Page 16

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The Two Goats.

Two goats, who self-emancipated,--
The white that on their feet they wore
Look'd back to noble blood of yore,--
Once quit the lowly meadows, sated,
And sought the hills, as it would seem:
In search of luck, by luck they met
Each other at a mountain stream.
As bridge a narrow plank was set,
On which, if truth must be confest,
Two weasels scarce could go abreast.
And then the torrent, foaming white,
As down it tumbled from the height,
Might well those Amazons affright.
But maugre such a fearful rapid,
Both took the bridge, the goats intrepid!
I seem to see our Louis Grand
And Philip IV. advance
To the Isle of Conference,
That lies 'twixt Spain and France,
Each sturdy for his glorious land.
Thus each of our adventurers goes,
Till foot to foot, and nose to nose,
Somewhere about the midst they meet,
And neither will an inch retreat.
For why? they both enjoy'd the glory
Of ancestors in ancient story.
The one, a goat of peerless rank,
Which, browsing on Sicilian bank,
The Cyclop gave to Galataea;
The other famous Amalthaea,
The goat that suckled Jupiter,
As some historians aver.
For want of giving back, in troth,
A common fall involved them both.--
A common accident, no doubt,
On Fortune's changeful route.

 

The Old Cat and the Young Mouse.

A young and inexperienced mouse
Had faith to try a veteran cat,--
Raminagrobis, death to rat,
And scourge of vermin through the house,--
Appealing to his clemency
With reasons sound and fair.
"Pray let me live; a mouse like me
It were not much to spare.
Am I, in such a family,
A burden? Would my largest wish
Our wealthy host impoverish?
A grain of wheat will make my meal;
A nut will fat me like a seal.
I'm lean at present; please to wait,
And for your heirs reserve my fate."
The captive mouse thus spake.
Replied the captor, "You mistake;
To me shall such a thing be said?
Address the deaf! address the dead!
A cat to pardon!--old one too!
Why, such a thing I never knew.
Thou victim of my paw,
By well-establish'd law,
Die as a mousling should,
And beg the sisterhood
Who ply the thread and shears,
To lend thy speech their ears.
Some other like repast
My heirs may find, or fast."

He ceased. The moral's plain.
_Youth always hopes its ends to gain,_
_Believes all spirits like its own:_
_Old age is not to mercy prone._

 

The Sick Stag

A stag, where stags abounded,
Fell sick and was surrounded
Forthwith by comrades kind,
All pressing to assist,
Or see, their friend, at least,
And ease his anxious mind--
An irksome multitude.
"Ah, sirs!" the sick was fain to cry,
"Pray leave me here to die,
As others do, in solitude.
Pray, let your kind attentions cease,
Till death my spirit shall release."
But comforters are not so sent:
On duty sad full long intent,
When Heaven pleased, they went:
But not without a friendly glass;
That is to say, they cropp'd the grass
And leaves which in that quarter grew,
From which the sick his pittance drew.
By kindness thus compell'd to fast,
He died for want of food at last.

_The men take off no trifling dole_
_Who heal the body, or the soul._
_Alas the times! do what we will,_
_They have their payment, cure or kill._

 

The Quarrel of the Dogs and Cats.

In mansion deck'd with frieze and column,
Dwelt dogs and cats in multitudes;
Decrees, promulged in manner solemn,
Had pacified their ancient feuds.
Their lord had so arranged their meals and labours,
And threaten'd quarrels with the whip,
That, living in sweet cousinship,
They edified their wondering neighbours.
At last, some dainty plate to lick,
Or profitable bone to pick,
Bestow'd by some partiality,
Broke up the smooth equality.
The side neglected were indignant
At such a slight malignant.
From words to blows the altercation
Soon grew a perfect conflagration.
In hall and kitchen, dog and cat
Took sides with zeal for this or that.
New rules upon the cat side falling
Produced tremendous caterwauling.
Their advocate, against such rules as these,
Advised recurrence to the old decrees.
They search'd in vain, for, hidden in a nook,
The thievish mice had eaten up the book.
Another quarrel, in a trice,
Made many sufferers with the mice;
For many a veteran whisker'd-face,
With craft and cunning richly stored,
And grudges old against the race,
Now watch'd to put them to the sword;
Nor mourn'd for this that mansion's lord.

_Look wheresoever we will, we see_
_No creature from opponents free._
_'Tis nature's law for earth and sky;_
_'Twere vain to ask the reason why:_
_God's works are good,--I cannot doubt it,--_
_And that is all I know about it._

 

The Wolf and the Fox.

"Dear wolf," complain'd a hungry fox,
"A lean chick's meat, or veteran cock's,
Is all I get by toil or trick:
Of such a living I am sick.
With far less risk, you've better cheer;
A house you need not venture near,
But I must do it, spite of fear.
Pray, make me master of your trade.
And let me by that means be made
The first of all my race that took
Fat mutton to his larder's hook:
Your kindness shall not be repented."
The wolf quite readily consented.
"I have a brother, lately dead:
Go fit his skin to yours," he said.
'Twas done; and then the wolf proceeded:
"Now mark you well what must be done,
The dogs that guard the flock to shun."
The fox the lessons strictly heeded.
At first he boggled in his dress;
But awkwardness grew less and less,
Till perseverance gave success.
His education scarce complete,
A flock, his scholarship to greet,
Came rambling out that way.
The new-made wolf his work began,
Amidst the heedless nibblers ran,
And spread a sore dismay.
The bleating host now surely thought
That fifty wolves were on the spot:
Dog, shepherd, sheep, all homeward fled,
And left a single sheep in pawn,
Which Renard seized when they were gone.
But, ere upon his prize he fed,
There crow'd a cock near by, and down
The scholar threw his prey and gown,
That he might run that way the faster--
Forgetting lessons, prize and master.

_Reality, in every station,_
_Will burst out on the first occasion._

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