World of Tales

La Fontaine's fables Page 20

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The Earthen Pot and the Iron Pot.

An iron pot proposed
To an earthen pot a journey.
The latter was opposed,
Expressing the concern he
Had felt about the danger
Of going out a ranger.
He thought the kitchen hearth
The safest place on earth
For one so very brittle.
"For thee, who art a kettle,
And hast a tougher skin,
There's nought to keep thee in."
"I'll be thy body-guard,"
Replied the iron pot;
"If anything that's hard
Should threaten thee a jot,
Between you I will go,
And save thee from the blow."
This offer him persuaded.
The iron pot paraded
Himself as guard and guide
Close at his cousin's side.
Now, in their tripod way,
They hobble as they may;
And eke together bolt
At every little jolt,--
Which gives the crockery pain;
But presently his comrade hits
So hard, he dashes him to bits,
Before he can complain.

_Take care that you associate_
_With equals only, lest your fate_
_Between these pots should find its mate._

 

The Bear and the Two Companions.

Two fellows, needing funds, and bold,
A bearskin to a furrier sold,
Of which the bear was living still,
But which they presently would kill--
At least they said they would,
And vow'd their word was good.
The bargain struck upon the skin,
Two days at most must bring it in.
Forth went the two. More easy found than got,
The bear came growling at them on the trot.
Behold our dealers both confounded,
As if by thunderbolt astounded!
Their bargain vanish'd suddenly in air;
For who could plead his interest with a bear?
One of the friends sprung up a tree;
The other, cold as ice could be,
Fell on his face, feign'd death,
And closely held his breath,--
He having somewhere heard it said
The bear ne'er preys upon the dead.
Sir Bear, sad blockhead, was deceived--
The prostrate man a corpse believed;
But, half suspecting some deceit,
He feels and snuffs from head to feet,
And in the nostrils blows.
The body's surely dead, he thinks.
"I'll leave it," says he, "for it stinks;"
And off into the woods he goes.
The other dealer, from his tree
Descending cautiously, to see
His comrade lying in the dirt,
Consoling, says, "It is a wonder
That, by the monster forced asunder,
We're, after all, more scared than hurt.
But," addeth he, "what of the creature's skin?
He held his muzzle very near;
What did he whisper in your ear?"
"He gave this caution,--'Never dare
Again to sell the skin of bear
Its owner has not ceased to wear.'"

 

The Lion, the Wolf, and the Fox

A Lion, old, and impotent with gout,
Would have some cure for age found out.
This king, from every species,--
Call'd to his aid the leeches.
They came, from quacks without degree
To doctors of the highest fee.
Advised, prescribed, talk'd learnedly;
But with the rest
Came not Sir Cunning Fox, M.D.
Sir Wolf the royal couch attended,
And his suspicions there express'd.
Forthwith his majesty, offended,
Resolved Sir Cunning Fox should come,
And sent to smoke him from his home.
He came, was duly usher'd in,
And, knowing where Sir Wolf had been,
Said, "Sire, abused your royal ear
Has been by rumours insincere;
To wit, that I've been self-exempt
From coming here, through sheer contempt.
But, sire, your royal health to aid,
I vow'd to make a pilgrimage,
And, on my way, met doctors sage,
In skill the wonder of the age,
Whom carefully I did consult
About that great debility
Term'd in the books senility,
Of which you fear, with reason, the result.
You lack, they say, the vital heat,
By age extreme become effete.
Drawn from a living wolf, the hide
Should warm and smoking be applied.
Sir Wolf, here, won't refuse to give
His hide to cure you, as I live."
The king was pleased with this advice.
Flay'd, jointed, served up in a trice,
Sir Wolf first wrapped the monarch up,
Then furnish'd him whereon to sup.

_Beware, ye courtiers, lest ye gain,_
_By slander's arts, less power than pain._

 

The Battle of the Rats and Weasels.

The weasels live, no more than cats,
On terms of friendship with the rats;
And, were it not that these
Through doors contrive to squeeze
Too narrow for their foes,
The animals long-snouted
Would long ago have routed,
And from the planet scouted
Their race, as I suppose.

One year it did betide,
When they were multiplied,
An army took the field
Of rats, with spear and shield,
Whose crowded ranks led on
A king named Ratapon.
The weasels, too, their banner
Unfurl'd in warlike manner.
As Fame her trumpet sounds,
The victory balanced well;
Enrich'd were fallow grounds
Where slaughter'd legions fell;
But by said trollop's tattle,
The loss of life in battle
Thinn'd most the rattish race
In almost every place;

And finally their rout
Was total, spite of stout
Artarpax and Psicarpax,
And valiant Meridarpax,
Who, cover'd o'er with dust,
Long time sustain'd their host
Down sinking on the plain.
Their efforts were in vain;
Fate ruled that final hour,
(Inexorable power!)
And so the captains fled
As well as those they led;
The princes perish'd all.
The undistinguish'd small
In certain holes found shelter;
In crowding, helter-skelter;
But the nobility
Could not go in so free,
Who proudly had assumed
Each one a helmet plumed;
We know not, truly, whether
For honour's sake the feather,
Or foes to strike with terror;
But, truly, 'twas their error.
Nor hole, nor crack, nor crevice
Will let their head-gear in;
While meaner rats in bevies
An easy passage win;--
So that the shafts of fate
Do chiefly hit the great.

_A feather in the cap_
_Is oft a great mishap._
_An equipage too grand_
_Comes often to a stand_
_Within a narrow place._
_The small, whate'er the case,_
_With ease slip through a strait,_
_Where larger folks must wait._

 

The Animals Sick of the Plague.

The sorest ill that Heaven hath
Sent on this lower world in wrath,--
The plague (to call it by its name,)
One single day of which
Would Pluto's ferryman enrich,--
Waged war on beasts, both wild and tame.
They died not all, but all were sick:
No hunting now, by force or trick,
To save what might so soon expire.
No food excited their desire;
Nor wolf nor fox now watch'd to slay
The innocent and tender prey.
The turtles fled;
So love and therefore joy were dead.
The lion council held, and said:
"My friends, I do believe
This awful scourge, for which we grieve,
Is for our sins a punishment
Most righteously by Heaven sent.
Let us our guiltiest beast resign,
A sacrifice to wrath divine.
Perhaps this offering, truly small,
May gain the life and health of all.
By history we find it noted
That lives have been just so devoted.
Then let us all turn eyes within,
And ferret out the hidden sin.
Himself let no one spare nor flatter,
But make clean conscience in the matter.
For me, my appetite has play'd the glutton
Too much and often upon mutton.
What harm had e'er my victims done?
I answer, truly, None.
Perhaps, sometimes, by hunger press'd,
I've eat the shepherd with the rest.
I yield myself, if need there be;
And yet I think, in equity,
Each should confess his sins with me;
For laws of right and justice cry,
The guiltiest alone should die."
"Sire," said the fox, "your majesty
Is humbler than a king should be,

And over-squeamish in the case.
What! eating stupid sheep a crime?
No, never, sire, at any time.
It rather was an act of grace,
A mark of honour to their race.
And as to shepherds, one may swear,
The fate your majesty describes,
Is recompense less full than fair
For such usurpers o'er our tribes."

Thus Renard glibly spoke,
And loud applause from flatterers broke.
Of neither tiger, boar, nor bear,
Did any keen inquirer dare
To ask for crimes of high degree;
The fighters, biters, scratchers, all
From every mortal sin were free;
The very dogs, both great and small,
Were saints, as far as dogs could be.

The ass, confessing in his turn,
Thus spoke in tones of deep concern:--
"I happen'd through a mead to pass;
The monks, its owners, were at mass;
Keen hunger, leisure, tender grass,
And add to these the devil too,
All tempted me the deed to do.
I browsed the bigness of my tongue;
Since truth must out, I own it wrong."

On this, a hue and cry arose,
As if the beasts were all his foes:
A wolf, haranguing lawyer-wise.
Denounced the ass for sacrifice--
The bald-pate, scabby, ragged lout,
By whom the plague had come, no doubt.
His fault was judged a hanging crime.
"What? eat another's grass? O shame!
The noose of rope and death sublime,
For that offence, were all too tame!"
And soon poor Grizzle felt the same.

_Thus human courts acquit the strong,_
_And doom the weak, as therefore wrong._

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