World of Tales

La Fontaine's fables Page 7

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The Council held by the Rats.

Old Rodilard, a certain cat,
Such havoc of the rats had made,
'Twas difficult to find a rat
With nature's debt unpaid.
The few that did remain,
To leave their holes afraid,
From usual food abstain,
Not eating half their fill.
And wonder no one will
That one who made of rats his revel,
With rats pass'd not for cat, but devil.
Now, on a day, this dread rat-eater,
Who had a wife, went out to meet her;
And while he held his caterwauling,
The unkill'd rats, their chapter calling,
Discuss'd the point, in grave debate,
How they might shun impending fate.
Their dean, a prudent rat,
Thought best, and better soon than late,
To bell the fatal cat;
That, when he took his hunting round,
The rats, well caution'd by the sound,
Might hide in safety under ground;
Indeed he knew no other means.
And all the rest
At once confess'd
Their minds were with the dean's.
No better plan, they all believed,
Could possibly have been conceived.
No doubt the thing would work right well,
If any one would hang the bell.
But, one by one, said every rat,
"I'm not so big a fool as that."
The plan knock'd up in this respect,
The council closed without effect.

And many a council I have seen,
Or reverend chapter with its dean,
That, thus resolving wisely,
Fell through like this precisely.

_To argue or refute_
_Wise counsellors abound;_
_The man to execute_
_Is harder to be found._

 

The Two Bulls and the Frog.

Two bulls engaged in shocking battle,
Both for a certain heifer's sake,
And lordship over certain cattle,
A frog began to groan and quake.
"But what is this to you?"
Inquired another of the croaking crew.
"Why, sister, don't you see,
The end of this will be,
That one of these big brutes will yield,
And then be exiled from the field?
No more permitted on the grass to feed,
He'll forage through our marsh, on rush and reed;
And while he eats or chews the cud,
Will trample on us in the mud.
Alas! to think how frogs must suffer
By means of this proud lady heifer!"
This fear was not without good sense.
One bull was beat, and much to their expense;
For, quick retreating to their reedy bower,
He trod on twenty of them in an hour.

_Of little folks it oft has been the fate_
_To suffer for the follies of the great._

 

The Bat and the Two Weasels.

A blundering bat once stuck her head
Into a wakeful weasel's bed;
Whereat the mistress of the house,
A deadly foe of rats and mice,
Was making ready in a trice
To eat the stranger as a mouse.
"What! do you dare," she said, "to creep in
The very bed I sometimes sleep in,
Now, after all the provocation
I've suffered from your thievish nation?
Are you not really a mouse,
That gnawing pest of every house,
Your special aim to do the cheese ill?
Ay, that you are, or I'm no weasel."
"I beg your pardon," said the bat;
"My kind is very far from that.
What! I a mouse! Who told you such a lie?
Why, ma'am, I am a bird;
And, if you doubt my word,
Just see the wings with which I fly.
Long live the mice that cleave the sky!"
These reasons had so fair a show,
The weasel let the creature go.

By some strange fancy led,
The same wise blunderhead,
But two or three days later,
Had chosen for her rest
Another weasel's nest,
This last, of birds a special hater.
New peril brought this step absurd:
Without a moment's thought or puzzle,
Dame weasel opened her peaked muzzle
To eat th' intruder as a bird.
"Hold! do not wrong me," cried the bat;
"I'm truly no such thing as that.
Your eyesight strange conclusions gathers.
What makes a bird, I pray? Its feathers.
I'm cousin of the mice and rats.
Great Jupiter confound the cats!"
The bat, by such adroit replying,
Twice saved herself from dying.

_And many a human stranger_
_Thus turns his coat in danger;_
_And sings, as suits, where'er he goes,_
_"God save the king!"--or "save his foes!"_

The Bird wounded by an Arrow.

A bird, with plumed arrow shot,
In dying case deplored her lot:
"Alas!" she cried, "the anguish of the thought!
This ruin partly by myself was brought!
Hard-hearted men! from us to borrow
What wings to us the fatal arrow!
But mock us not, ye cruel race,
For you must often take our place."

_The work of half the human brothers_
_Is making arms against the others._

The Lion and the Gnat.

"Go, paltry insect, nature's meanest brat!"
Thus said the royal lion to the gnat.
The gnat declared immediate war.
"Think you," said he, "your royal name
To me worth caring for?
Think you I tremble at your power or fame?
The ox is bigger far than you;
Yet him I drive, and all his crew."
This said, as one that did no fear owe,
Himself he blew the battle charge,
Himself both trumpeter and hero.
At first he play'd about at large,
Then on the lion's neck, at leisure, settled,
And there the royal beast full sorely nettled.
With foaming mouth, and flashing eye,
He roars. All creatures hide or fly,--
Such mortal terror at
The work of one poor gnat!
With constant change of his attack,
The snout now stinging, now the back,
And now the chambers of the nose;
The pigmy fly no mercy shows.
The lion's rage was at its height;
His viewless foe now laugh'd outright,
When on his battle-ground he saw,
That every savage tooth and claw
Had got its proper beauty
By doing bloody duty;
Himself, the hapless lion, tore his hide,
And lash'd with sounding tail from side to side.
Ah! bootless blow, and bite, and curse!
He beat the harmless air, and worse;
For, though so fierce and stout,
By effort wearied out,
He fainted, fell, gave up the quarrel;
The gnat retires with verdant laurel.

_We often have the most to fear_
_From those we most despise;_
_Again, great risks a man may clear,_
_Who by the smallest dies._

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