World of Tales

La Fontaine's fables Page 17

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The Lobster and her Daughter.

The wise, sometimes, as lobsters do,
To gain their ends back foremost go.
It is the rower's art; and those
Commanders who mislead their foes,
Do often seem to aim their sight
Just where they don't intend to smite.
My theme, so low, may yet apply
To one whose fame is very high,
Who finds it not the hardest matter
A hundred-headed league to scatter.
What he will do, what leave undone,
Are secrets with unbroken seals,
Till victory the truth reveals.
Whatever he would have unknown
Is sought in vain. Decrees of Fate
Forbid to check, at first, the course
Which sweeps at last the torrent force.
One Jove, as ancient fables state,
Exceeds a hundred gods in weight.
So Fate and Louis would seem able
The universe to draw,
Bound captive to their law.--
But come we to our fable.
A mother lobster did her daughter chide:
"For shame, my daughter! can't you go ahead?"
"And how go you yourself?" the child replied;
"Can I be but by your example led?
Head foremost should I, singularly, wend,
While all my race pursue the other end."
She spoke with sense: for better or for worse,
Example has a universal force.
To some it opens wisdom's door,
But leads to folly many more.
Yet, as for backing to one's aim,
When properly pursued
The art is doubtless good,
At least in grim Bellona's game.

 

The Ploughman and his Sons.

_The farmer's patient care and toil
Are oftener wanting than the soil._

A wealthy ploughman drawing near his end,
Call'd in his sons apart from every friend,
And said, "When of your sire bereft,
The heritage our fathers left
Guard well, nor sell a single field.
A treasure in it is conceal'd:
The place, precisely, I don't know,
But industry will serve to show.
The harvest past, Time's forelock take,
And search with plough, and spade, and rake;
Turn over every inch of sod,
Nor leave unsearch'd a single clod."
The father died. The sons--and not in vain--
Turn'd o'er the soil, and o'er again;
That year their acres bore
More grain than e'er before.
Though hidden money found they none,
Yet had their father wisely done,
To show by such a measure,
That toil itself is treasure.

 

The Ass Dressed in the Lion's Skin.

Clad in a lion's shaggy hide,
An ass spread terror far and wide,
And, though himself a coward brute,
Put all the world to scampering rout:
But, by a piece of evil luck,
A portion of an ear outstuck,
Which soon reveal'd the error
Of all the panic terror.
Old Martin did his office quick.
Surprised were all who did not know the trick,
To see that Martin, at his will,
Was driving lions to the mill!

_In France, the men are not a few_
_Of whom this fable proves too true;_
_Whose valour chiefly doth reside_
_In coat they wear and horse they ride._

 

The Woods and the Woodman.

A certain wood-chopper lost or broke
From his axe's eye a bit of oak.
The forest must needs be somewhat spared
While such a loss was being repair'd.
Came the man at last, and humbly pray'd
That the woods would kindly lend to him--
A moderate loan--a single limb,
Whereof might another helve be made,
And his axe should elsewhere drive its trade.
O, the oaks and firs that then might stand,
A pride and a joy throughout the land,
For their ancientness and glorious charms!
The innocent Forest lent him arms;
But bitter indeed was her regret;
For the wretch, his axe new-helved and whet,
Did nought but his benefactress spoil
Of the finest trees that graced her soil;
And ceaselessly was she made to groan,
Doing penance for that fatal loan.

_Behold the world-stage and its actors,_
_Where benefits hurt benefactors!--_
_A weary theme, and full of pain;_
_For where's the shade so cool and sweet,_
_Protecting strangers from the heat,_
_But might of such a wrong complain?_
_Alas! I vex myself in vain;_
_Ingratitude, do what I will,_
_Is sure to be the fashion still._

 

The Fox, the Wolf, and the horse.

A fox, though young, by no means raw,
Had seen a horse, the first he ever saw:
"Ho! neighbour wolf," said he to one quite green,
"A creature in our meadow I have seen,--
Sleek, grand! I seem to see him yet,--
The finest beast I ever met."
"Is he a stouter one than we?"
The wolf demanded, eagerly;
"Some picture of him let me see."
"If I could paint," said fox, "I should delight
T' anticipate your pleasure at the sight;
But come; who knows? perhaps it is a prey
By fortune offer'd in our way."
They went. The horse, turn'd loose to graze,
Not liking much their looks and ways,
Was just about to gallop off.
"Sir," said the fox, "your humble servants, we
Make bold to ask you what your name may be."
The horse, an animal with brains enough,
Replied, "Sirs, you yourselves may read my name;
My shoer round my heel hath writ the same."
The fox excus'd himself for want of knowledge:
"Me, sir, my parents did not educate,--
So poor, a hole was their entire estate.
My friend, the wolf, however, taught at college,
Could read it were it even Greek."
The wolf, to flattery weak,
Approach'd to verify the boast;
For which four teeth he lost.
The high raised hoof came down with such a blow,
As laid him bleeding on the ground full low.
"My brother," said the fox, "this shows how just
What once was taught me by a fox of wit,--
Which on thy jaws this animal hath writ,--
'All unknown things the wise mistrust.'"

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