World of Tales

La Fontaine's fables Page 9

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The Camel and the Floating Sticks.

The first who saw the humpback'd camel
Fled off for life; the next approach'd with care;
The third with tyrant rope did boldly dare
The desert wanderer to trammel.
Such is the power of use to change
The face of objects new and strange;
Which grow, by looking at, so tame,
They do not even seem the same.
And since this theme is up for our attention,
A certain watchman I will mention,
Who, seeing something far
Away upon the ocean,
Could not but speak his notion
That 'twas a ship of war.
Some minutes more had past,--
A bomb-ketch 'twas without a sail,
And then a boat, and then a bale,
And floating sticks of wood at last!

_Full many things on earth, I wot,_
_Will claim this tale,--and well they may;_
_They're something dreadful far away,_
_But near at hand--they're not._

 

The Wolf, the Goat, and the Kid.

As went a goat of grass to take her fill,
And browse the herbage of a distant hill,
She latch'd her door, and bid,
With matron care, her kid;
"My daughter, as you live,
This portal don't undo
To any creature who
This watchword does not give:
'Deuce take the wolf and all his race!'"
The wolf was passing near the place
By chance, and heard the words with pleasure,
And laid them up as useful treasure;
And hardly need we mention,
Escaped the goat's attention.
No sooner did he see
The matron off, than he,
With hypocritic tone and face,
Cried out before the place,
"Deuce take the wolf and all his race!"
Not doubting thus to gain admission.
The kid, not void of all suspicion,
Peer'd through a crack, and cried,
"Show me white paw before
You ask me to undo the door."
The wolf could not, if he had died,
For wolves have no connection
With pains of that complexion.
So, much surprised, our gourmandiser
Retired to fast till he was wiser.

_How would the kid have been undone_
_Had she but trusted to the word?_
_The wolf by chance had overheard!_
_Two sureties better are than one;_
_And caution's worth its cost,_
_Though sometimes seeming lost._

The Rat Retired from the World.

The sage Levantines have a tale
About a rat that weary grew
Of all the cares which life assail,
And to a Holland cheese withdrew.
His solitude was there profound,
Extending through his world so round.
Our hermit lived on that within;
And soon his industry had been
With claws and teeth so good,
That in his novel hermitage,
He had in store, for wants of age,
Both house and livelihood.
One day this personage devout,
Whose kindness none might doubt,
Was ask'd, by certain delegates
That came from Rat-United-States,
For some small aid, for they
To foreign parts were on their way,
For succour in the great cat-war.
Ratopolis beleaguer'd sore,
Their whole republic drain'd and poor,
No morsel in their scrips they bore.
Slight boon they craved, of succour sure
In days at utmost three or four.
"My friends," the hermit said,
"To worldly things I'm dead.
How can a poor recluse
To such a mission be of use?
What can he do but pray
That God will aid it on its way?
And so, my friends, it is my prayer
That God will have you in his care."
His well-fed saintship said no more,
But in their faces shut the door.

_What think you, reader, is the service_
_For which I use this niggard rat?_
_To paint a monk? No, but a dervise._
_A monk, I think, however fat,_
_Must be more bountiful than that._

The Cunning Fox.

A fox once practised, 'tis believed,
A stratagem right well conceived.
The wretch, when in the utmost strait
By dogs of nose so delicate,
Approach'd a gallows, where,
A lesson to like passengers,
Or clothed in feathers or in furs,
Some badgers, owls, and foxes, pendent were.
Their comrade, in his pressing need,
Arranged himself among the dead.
I seem to see old Hannibal
Outwit some Roman general,
And sit securely in his tent,
The legions on some other scent.
But certain dogs, kept back
To tell the errors of the pack,
Arriving where the traitor hung,
A fault in fullest chorus sung.
Though by their bark the welkin rung,
Their master made them hold the tongue.
Suspecting not a trick so odd,
Said he, "The rogue's beneath the sod.
My dogs, that never saw such jokes,
Won't bark beyond these honest folks."

The rogue would try the trick again.
He did so to his cost and pain.
Again with dogs the welkin rings;
Again our fox from gallows swings;
But though he hangs with greater faith
This time, he does it to his death.

_So uniformly is it true,_
_A stratagem is best when new._

The Ape.

There is an ape in Paris,
To which was given a wife:
Like many a one that marries,
This ape, in brutal strife,
Soon beat her out of life.
Their infant cries,--perhaps not fed,--
But cries, I ween, in vain;
The father laughs: his wife is dead,
And he has other loves again,
Which he will also beat, I think,--
Return'd from tavern drown'd in drink.

_For aught that's good, you need not look_
_Among the imitative tribe;_
_A monkey be it, or what makes a book--_
_The worse, I deem--the aping scribe._

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