La Fontaine's fables Page 12
The Joker and the Fishes.
A joker at a banker's table,
Most amply spread to satisfy
The height of epicurean wishes,
Had nothing near but little fishes.
So, taking several of the fry,
He whisper'd to them very nigh,
And seem'd to listen for reply.
The guests much wonder'd what it meant,
And stared upon him all intent.
The joker, then, with sober face,
Politely thus explain'd the case:
"A friend of mine, to India bound,
Has been, I fear,
Within a year,
By rocks or tempests wreck'd and drown'd.
I ask'd these strangers from the sea
To tell me where my friend might be.
But all replied they were too young
To know the least of such a matter--
The older fish could tell me better.
Pray, may I hear some older tongue?"
What relish had the gentlefolks
For such a sample of his jokes,
Is more than I can now relate.
They put, I'm sure, upon his plate,
A monster of so old a date,
He must have known the names and fate
Of all the daring voyagers,
Who, following the moon and stars,
Have, by mischances, sunk their bones
Within the realms of Davy Jones;
And who, for centuries, had seen,
Far down, within the fathomless,
Where whales themselves are sceptreless,
The ancients in their halls of green.
The Rat and the Oyster.
A country rat, of little brains,
Grown weary of inglorious rest,
Left home with all its straws and grains,
Resolved to know beyond his nest.
When peeping through the nearest fence,
"How big the world is, how immense!"
He cried; "there rise the Alps, and that
Is doubtless famous Ararat."
His mountains were the works of moles,
Or dirt thrown up in digging holes!
Some days of travel brought him where
The tide had left the oysters bare.
Since here our traveller saw the sea,
He thought these shells the ships must be.
"My father was, in truth," said he,
"A coward, and an ignoramus;
He dared not travel: as for me,
I've seen the ships and ocean famous;
Have cross'd the deserts without drinking,
And many dangerous streams unshrinking."
Among the shut-up shell-fish, one
Was gaping widely at the sun;
It breathed, and drank the air's perfume,
Expanding, like a flower in bloom.
Both white and fat, its meat
Appear'd a dainty treat.
Our rat, when he this shell espied,
Thought for his stomach to provide.
"If not mistaken in the matter,"
Said he, "no meat was ever fatter,
Or in its flavour half so fine,
As that on which to-day I dine."
Thus full of hope, the foolish chap
Thrust in his head to taste,
And felt the pinching of a trap--
The oyster closed in haste.
_Now those to whom the world is new_
_Are wonder-struck at every view;_
_And the marauder finds his match,_
_When he is caught who thinks to catch._
The Hog, the Goat, and the Sheep.
A goat, a sheep, and porker fat,
All to the market rode together.
Their own amusement was not that
Which caused their journey thither.
Their coachman did not mean to "set them down"
To see the shows and wonders of the town.
The porker cried, in piercing squeals,
As if with butchers at his heels.
The other beasts, of milder mood,
The cause by no means understood.
They saw no harm, and wonder'd why
At such a rate the hog should cry.
"Hush there, old piggy!" said the man,
"And keep as quiet as you can.
What wrong have you to squeal about,
And raise this dev'lish, deaf'ning shout?
These stiller persons at your side
Have manners much more dignified.
Pray, have you heard
A single word
Come from that gentleman in wool?
That proves him wise." "That proves him fool!"
The testy hog replied;
"For did he know
To what we go,
He'd cry almost to split his throat;
So would her ladyship the goat.
They only think to lose with ease,
The goat her milk, the sheep his fleece:
They're, maybe, right; but as for me
This ride is quite another matter.
Of service only on the platter,
My death is quite a certainty.
Adieu, my dear old piggery!"
The porker's logic proved at once
Himself a prophet and a dunce.
_Hope ever gives a present ease,_
_But fear beforehand kills:_
_The wisest he who least foresees_
The Rat and the Elephant.
A rat, of quite the smallest size,
Fix'd on an elephant his eyes,
And jeer'd the beast of high descent
Because his feet so slowly went.
Upon his back, three stories high,
There sat, beneath a canopy,
A certain sultan of renown,
His dog, and cat, and wife sublime,
His parrot, servant, and his wine,
All pilgrims to a distant town.
The rat profess'd to be amazed
That all the people stood and gazed
With wonder, as he pass'd the road,
Both at the creature and his load.
"As if," said he, "to occupy
A little more of land or sky
Made one, in view of common sense,
Of greater worth and consequence!
What see ye, men, in this parade,
That food for wonder need be made?
The bulk which makes a child afraid?
In truth, I take myself to be,
In all aspects, as good as he."
And further might have gone his vaunt;
But, darting down, the cat
Convinced him that a rat
Is smaller than an elephant.
The Ass and the Dog.
Along the road an ass and dog
One master following, did jog.
Their master slept: meanwhile, the ass
Applied his nippers to the grass,
Much pleased in such a place to stop,
Though there no thistle he could crop.
He would not be too delicate,
Nor spoil a dinner for a plate,
Which, but for that, his favourite dish,
Were all that any ass could wish.
"My dear companion," Towser said,--
"'Tis as a starving dog I ask it,--
Pray lower down your loaded basket,
And let me get a piece of bread."
No answer--not a word!--indeed,
The truth was, our Arcadian steed
Fear'd lest, for every moment's flight,
His nimble teeth should lose a bite.
At last, "I counsel you," said he, "to wait
Till master is himself awake,
Who then, unless I much mistake,
Will give his dog the usual bait."
Meanwhile, there issued from the wood
A creature of the wolfish brood,
Himself by famine sorely pinch'd.
At sight of him the donkey flinch'd,
And begg'd the dog to give him aid.
The dog budged not, but answer made,--
"I counsel thee, my friend, to run,
Till master's nap is fairly done;
There can, indeed, be no mistake,
That he will very soon awake;
Till then, scud off with all your might;
And should he snap you in your flight,
This ugly wolf,--why, let him feel
The greeting of your well-shod heel.
I do not doubt, at all, but that
Will be enough to lay him flat."
But ere he ceased it was too late;
The ass had met his cruel fate.