World of Tales

La Fontaine's fables Page 2

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The Swan and the Cook.

The pleasures of a poultry yard
Were by a swan and gosling shared.
The swan was kept there for his looks,
The thrifty gosling for the cooks;
The first the garden's pride, the latter
A greater favourite on the platter.
They swam the ditches, side by side,
And oft in sports aquatic vied,
Plunging, splashing far and wide,
With rivalry ne'er satisfied.
One day the cook, named Thirsty John,
Sent for the gosling, took the swan
In haste his throat to cut,
And put him in the pot.
The bird's complaint resounded
In glorious melody;
Whereat the cook, astounded
His sad mistake to see,
Cried, "What! make soup of a musician!
Please God, I'll never set such dish on.
No, no; I'll never cut a throat
That sings so sweet a note."

_'Tis thus, whatever peril may alarm us,_
_Sweet words will never harm us._

 

The Weasel in the Granary.

A weasel through a hole contrived to squeeze,
(She was recovering from disease,)
Which led her to a farmer's hoard.
There lodged, her wasted form she cherish'd;
Heaven knows the lard and victuals stored
That by her gnawing perish'd!
Of which the consequence
Was sudden corpulence.
A week or so was past,
When having fully broken fast,
A noise she heard, and hurried
To find the hole by which she came,
And seem'd to find it not the same;
So round she ran, most sadly flurried;
And, coming back, thrust out her head,
Which, sticking there, she said,
"This is the hole, there can't be blunder:
What makes it now so small, I wonder,
Where, but the other day, I pass'd with ease?"
A rat her trouble sees,
And cries, "But with an emptier belly;
You enter'd lean, and lean must sally."

 

The Shepherd and the Sea.

A shepherd, neighbour to the sea,
Lived with his flock contentedly.
His fortune, though but small,
Was safe within his call.
At last some stranded kegs of gold
Him tempted, and his flock he sold,
Turn'd merchant, and the ocean's waves
Bore all his treasure--to its caves.
Brought back to keeping sheep once more,
But not chief shepherd, as before,
When sheep were his that grazed the shore,
He who, as Corydon or Thyrsis,
Might once have shone in pastoral verses,
Bedeck'd with rhyme and metre,
Was nothing now but Peter.
But time and toil redeem'd in full
Those harmless creatures rich in wool;
And as the lulling winds, one day,
The vessels wafted with a gentle motion,
"Want you," he cried, "more money, Madam Ocean?
Address yourself to some one else, I pray;
You shall not get it out of me!
I know too well your treachery."

_This tale's no fiction, but a fact,_
_Which, by experience back'd,_
_Proves that a single penny,_
_At present held, and certain,_
_Is worth five times as many,_
_Of Hope's, beyond the curtain;_

_That one should be content with his condition,_
_And shut his ears to counsels of ambition,_
_More faithless than the wreck-strown sea, and which_
_Doth thousands beggar where it makes one rich,--_
_Inspires the hope of wealth, in glorious forms,_
_And blasts the same with piracy and storms._

 

The Ass and the Little Dog.

One's native talent from its course
Cannot be turned aside by force;
But poorly apes the country clown
The polish'd manners of the town.
Their Maker chooses but a few
With power of pleasing to imbue;
Where wisely leave it we, the mass,
Unlike a certain fabled ass,
That thought to gain his master's blessing
By jumping on him and caressing.
"What!" said the donkey in his heart;
"Ought it to be that puppy's part
To lead his useless life
In full companionship
With master and his wife,
While I must bear the whip?
What doth the cur a kiss to draw?
Forsooth, he only gives his paw!
If that is all there needs to please,
I'll do the thing myself, with ease."
Possess'd with this bright notion,--
His master sitting on his chair,
At leisure in the open air,--
He ambled up, with awkward motion,
And put his talents to the proof;
Upraised his bruised and batter'd hoof,
And, with an amiable mien,
His master patted on the chin,
The action gracing with a word--
The fondest bray that e'er was heard!
O, such caressing was there ever?
Or melody with such a quaver?
"Ho! Martin! here! a club, a club bring!"
Out cried the master, sore offended.
So Martin gave the ass a drubbing,--
And so the comedy was ended.

 

The Man and the Wooden God.

A pagan kept a god of wood,--
A sort that never hears,
Though furnish'd well with ears,--
From which he hoped for wondrous good.
The idol cost the board of three;
So much enrich'd was he
With vows and offerings vain,
With bullocks garlanded and slain:
No idol ever had, as that,
A kitchen quite so full and fat.
But all this worship at his shrine
Brought not from this same block divine
Inheritance, or hidden mine,
Or luck at play, or any favour.
Nay, more, if any storm whatever
Brew'd trouble here or there,
The man was sure to have his share,
And suffer in his purse,
Although the god fared none the worse.
At last, by sheer impatience bold,
The man a crowbar seizes,
His idol breaks in pieces,
And finds it richly stuff'd with gold.
"How's this? Have I devoutly treated,"
Says he, "your godship, to be cheated?
Now leave my house, and go your way,
And search for altars where you may."

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