World of Tales

La Fontaine's fables Page 3

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The Ears of the Hare.

Some beast with horns did gore
The lion; and that sovereign dread,
Resolved to suffer so no more,
Straight banish'd from his realm, 'tis said,
All sorts of beasts with horns--
Rams, bulls, goats, stags, and unicorns.
Such brutes all promptly fled.
A hare, the shadow of his ears perceiving,
Could hardly help believing
That some vile spy for horns would take them,
And food for accusation make them.
"Adieu," said he, "my neighbour cricket;
I take my foreign ticket.
My ears, should I stay here,
Will turn to horns, I fear;
And were they shorter than a bird's,
I fear the effect of words."
"These horns!" the cricket answer'd; "why,
God made them ears who can deny?"
"Yes," said the coward, "still they'll make them horns,
And horns, perhaps, of unicorns!
In vain shall I protest,
With all the learning of the schools:
My reasons they will send to rest
In th' Hospital of Fools."

 

The Old Woman and Her Servants.

A beldam kept two spinning maids,
Who plied so handily their trades,
Those spinning sisters down below
Were bunglers when compared with these.
No care did this old woman know
But giving tasks as she might please.
No sooner did the god of day
His glorious locks enkindle,
Than both the wheels began to play,
And from each whirling spindle
Forth danced the thread right merrily,
And back was coil'd unceasingly.
Soon as the dawn, I say, its tresses show'd,
A graceless cock most punctual crow'd.
The beldam roused, more graceless yet,
In greasy petticoat bedight,
Struck up her farthing light,
And then forthwith the bed beset,
Where deeply, blessedly did snore
Those two maid-servants tired and poor.
One oped an eye, an arm one stretch'd,
And both their breath most sadly fetch'd,
This threat concealing in the sigh--
"That cursed cock shall surely die!"
And so he did:--they cut his throat,
And put to sleep his rousing note.
And yet this murder mended not
The cruel hardship of their lot;
For now the twain were scarce in bed
Before they heard the summons dread.
The beldam, full of apprehension
Lest oversleep should cause detention,
Ran like a goblin through her mansion.

_Thus often, when one thinks_
_To clear himself from ill,_
_His effort only sinks_
_Him in the deeper still._
_The beldam acting for the cock,_
_Was Scylla for Charybdis' rock._

 

The Ass Carrying Relics.

An ass, with relics for his load,
Supposed the worship on the road
Meant for himself alone,
And took on lofty airs,
Receiving as his own
The incense and the prayers.
Some one, who saw his great mistake,
Cried, "Master Donkey, do not make
Yourself so big a fool.
Not you they worship, but your pack;
They praise the idols on your back,
And count yourself a paltry tool."

_'Tis thus a brainless magistrate_
_Is honour'd for his robe of state._

 

The Hare and the Partridge.

A field in common share
A partridge and a hare,
And live in peaceful state,
Till, woeful to relate!
The hunters' mingled cry
Compels the hare to fly.
He hurries to his fort,
And spoils almost the sport
By faulting every hound
That yelps upon the ground.
At last his reeking heat
Betrays his snug retreat.
Old Tray, with philosophic nose,
Snuffs carefully, and grows
So certain, that he cries,
"The hare is here; bow wow!"
And veteran Ranger now,--
The dog that never lies,--
"The hare is gone," replies.
Alas! poor, wretched hare,
Back comes he to his lair,
To meet destruction there!
The partridge, void of fear,
Begins her friend to jeer:--
"You bragg'd of being fleet;
How serve you, now, your feet?"
Scarce has she ceased to speak,--
The laugh yet in her beak,--
When comes her turn to die,
From which she could not fly.
She thought her wings, indeed,
Enough for every need;
But in her laugh and talk,
Forgot the cruel hawk!

 

The Lion Going to War.

The lion had an enterprise in hand;
Held a war-council, sent his provost-marshal,
And gave the animals a call impartial--
Each, in his way, to serve his high command.
The elephant should carry on his back
The tools of war, the mighty public pack,
And fight in elephantine way and form;
The bear should hold himself prepared to storm;
The fox all secret stratagems should fix;
The monkey should amuse the foe by tricks.
"Dismiss," said one, "the blockhead asses,
And hares, too cowardly and fleet."
"No," said the king; "I use all classes;
Without their aid my force were incomplete.
The ass shall be our trumpeter, to scare
Our enemy. And then the nimble hare
Our royal bulletins shall homeward bear."

_A monarch provident and wise_
_Will hold his subjects all of consequence,_
_And know in each what talent lies._
_There's nothing useless to a man of sense._

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