La Fontaine's fables Page 18
The Fox and the Turkeys.
Against a robber fox, a tree
Some turkeys served as citadel.
That villain, much provoked to see
Each standing there as sentinel,
Cried out, "Such witless birds
At me stretch out their necks, and gobble!
No, by the powers! I'll give them trouble."
He verified his words.
The moon, that shined full on the oak,
Seem'd then to help the turkey folk.
But fox, in arts of siege well versed,
Ransack'd his bag of tricks accursed.
He feign'd himself about to climb;
Walk'd on his hinder legs sublime;
Then death most aptly counterfeited,
And seem'd anon resuscitated.
A practiser of wizard arts
Could not have fill'd so many parts.
In moonlight he contrived to raise
His tail, and make it seem a blaze:
And countless other tricks like that.
Meanwhile, no turkey slept or sat.
Their constant vigilance at length,
As hoped the fox, wore out their strength.
Bewilder'd by the rigs he run,
They lost their balance one by one.
As Renard slew, he laid aside,
Till nearly half of them had died;
Then proudly to his larder bore,
And laid them up, an ample store.
_A foe, by being over-heeded,_
_Has often in his plan succeeded._
From heaven, one day, did Jupiter proclaim,
"Let all that live before my throne appear,
And there if any one hath aught to blame,
In matter, form, or texture of his frame,
He may bring forth his grievance without fear.
Redress shall instantly be given to each.
Come, monkey, now, first let us have your speech.
You see these quadrupeds, your brothers;
Comparing, then, yourself with others,
Are you well satisfied?" "And wherefore not?"
Says Jock. "Haven't I four trotters with the rest?
Is not my visage comely as the best?
But this my brother Bruin, is a blot
On thy creation fair;
And sooner than be painted I'd be shot,
Were I, great sire, a bear."
The bear approaching, doth he make complaint?
Not he;--himself he lauds without restraint.
The elephant he needs must criticise;
To crop his ears and stretch his tail were wise;
A creature he of huge, misshapen size.
The elephant, though famed as beast judicious,
While on his own account he had no wishes,
Pronounced dame whale too big to suit his taste;
Of flesh and fat she was a perfect waste.
The little ant, again, pronounced the gnat too wee;
To such a speck, a vast colossus she.
Each censured by the rest, himself content,
Back to their homes all living things were sent.
_Such folly liveth yet with human fools._
_For others lynxes, for ourselves but moles._
_Great blemishes in other men we spy,_
_Which in ourselves we pass most kindly by._
_As in this world we're but way-farers,_
_Kind Heaven has made us wallet-bearers._
_The pouch behind our own defects must store,_
_The faults of others lodge in that before._
The Woodman and Mercury.
A man that labour'd in the wood
Had lost his honest livelihood;
That is to say,
His axe was gone astray.
He had no tools to spare;
This wholly earn'd his fare.
Without a hope beside,
He sat him down and cried,
"Alas, my axe! where can it be?
O Jove! but send it back to me,
And it shall strike good blows for thee."
His prayer in high Olympus heard,
Swift Mercury started at the word.
"Your axe must not be lost," said he:
"Now, will you know it when you see?
An axe I found upon the road."
With that an axe of gold he show'd.
"Is't this?" The woodman answer'd, "Nay."
An axe of silver, bright and gay,
Refused the honest woodman too.
At last the finder brought to view
An axe of iron, steel, and wood.
"That's mine," he said, in joyful mood;
"With that I'll quite contented be."
The god replied, "I give the three,
As due reward of honesty."
This luck when neighbouring choppers knew,
They lost their axes, not a few,
And sent their prayers to Jupiter
So fast, he knew not which to hear.
His winged son, however, sent
With gold and silver axes, went.
Each would have thought himself a fool
Not to have own'd the richest tool.
But Mercury promptly gave, instead
Of it, a blow upon the head.
_With simple truth to be contented,_
_Is surest not to be repented;_
_But still there are who would_
_With evil trap the good,--_
_Whose cunning is but stupid,_
_For Jove is never duped._
The Lion and the Monkey.
The lion, for his kingdom's sake,
In morals would some lessons take,
And therefore call'd, one summer's day,
The monkey, master of the arts,
An animal of brilliant parts,
To hear what he could say.
"Great king," the monkey thus began,
"To reign upon the wisest plan
Requires a prince to set his zeal,
And passion for the public weal,
Distinctly and quite high above
A certain feeling call'd self-love,
The parent of all vices,
In creatures of all sizes.
To will this feeling from one's breast away,
Is not the easy labour of a day;
By that your majesty august,
Will execute your royal trust,
From folly free and aught unjust."
"Give me," replied the king,
"Example of each thing."
"Each species," said the sage,--
"And I begin with ours,--
Exalts its own peculiar powers
Above sound reason's gauge.
Meanwhile, all other kinds and tribes
As fools and blockheads it describes,
With other compliments as cheap.
But, on the other hand, the same
Self-love inspires a beast to heap
The highest pyramid of fame
For every one that bears his name;
Because he justly deems such praise
The easiest way himself to raise.
'Tis my conclusion in the case,
That many a talent here below
Is but cabal, or sheer grimace,--
The art of seeming things to know--
An art in which perfection lies
More with the ignorant than wise."
The Shepherd and the Lion.
The Fable AEsop tells is nearly this:--
A shepherd from his flock began to miss,
And long'd to catch the stealer of, his sheep.
Before a cavern, dark and deep,
Where wolves retired by day to sleep,
Which he suspected as the thieves,
He set his trap among the leaves;
And, ere he left the place,
He thus invoked celestial grace:--
"O king of all the powers divine,
Against the rogue but grant me this delight,
That this my trap may catch him in my sight,
And I, from twenty calves of mine,
Will make the fattest thine."
But while the words were on his tongue,
Forth came a lion great and strong.
Down crouch'd the man of sheep, and said,
With shivering fright half dead,
"Alas! that man should never be aware
Of what may be the meaning of his prayer!
To catch the robber of my flocks,
O king of gods, I pledged a calf to thee:
If from his clutches thou wilt rescue me,
I'll raise my offering to an ox."