La Fontaine's fables Page 5
The Two Asses.
Two asses tracking, t'other day,
Of which each in his turn,
Did incense to the other burn,
Quite in the usual way,--
I heard one to his comrade say,
"My lord, do you not find
The prince of knaves and fools
To be this man, who boasts of mind
Instructed in his schools?
With wit unseemly and profane,
He mocks our venerable race--
On each of his who lacketh brain
Bestows our ancient surname, ass!
And, with abusive tongue portraying,
Describes our laugh and talk as braying!
These bipeds of their folly tell us,
While thus pretending to excel us."
"No, 'tis for you to speak, my friend,
And let their orators attend.
The braying is their own, but let them be:
We understand each other, and agree,
And that's enough. As for your song,
Such wonders to its notes belong,
The nightingale is put to shame,
The Sirens lose one half their fame."
"My lord," the other ass replied,
"Such talents in yourself reside,
Of asses all, the joy and pride."
These donkeys, not quite satisfied
With scratching thus each other's hide,
Must needs the cities visit,
Their fortunes there to raise,
By sounding forth the praise,
Each, of the other's skill exquisite.
The Shepherd and his Dog.
A shepherd, with a single dog,
Was ask'd the reason why
He kept a dog, whose least supply
Amounted to a loaf of bread
For every day. The people said
He'd better give the animal
To guard the village seignior's hall;
For him, a shepherd, it would be
A thriftier economy
To keep small curs, say two or three,
That would not cost him half the food,
And yet for watching be as good.
The fools, perhaps, forgot to tell
If they would fight the wolf as well.
The silly shepherd, giving heed,
Cast off his dog of mastiff breed,
And took three dogs to watch his cattle,
Which ate far less, but fled in battle.
_Not vain our tale, if it convinces_
_Small states that 'tis a wiser thing_
_To trust a single powerful king,_
_Than half a dozen petty princes._
The Two Mules.
Two mules were bearing on their backs,
One, oats; the other, silver of the tax.
The latter glorying in his load,
March'd proudly forward on the road;
And, from the jingle of his bell,
'Twas plain he liked his burden well.
But in a wild-wood glen
A band of robber men
Rush'd forth upon the twain.
Well with the silver pleased,
They by the bridle seized
The treasure mule so vain.
Poor mule! in struggling to repel
His ruthless foes, he fell
Stabb'd through; and with a bitter sighing,
He cried, "Is this the lot they promised me?
My humble friend from danger free,
While, weltering in my gore, I'm dying?"
"My friend," his fellow-mule replied,
"It is not well to have one's work too high.
If thou hadst been a miller's drudge, as I,
Thou wouldst not thus have died."
The Heifer, the Goat, and the Sheep.
The heifer, the goat, and their sister the sheep,
Compacted their earnings in common to keep,
'Tis said, in time past, with a lion, who sway'd
Full lordship o'er neighbours, of whatever grade.
The goat, as it happen'd, a stag having snared,
Sent off to the rest, that the beast might be shared.
All gather'd; the lion first counts on his claws,
And says, "We'll proceed to divide with our paws
The stag into pieces, as fix'd by our laws."
This done, he announces part first as his own;
"'Tis mine," he says, "truly, as lion alone."
To such a decision there's nought to be said,
As he who has made it is doubtless the head.
"Well, also, the second to me should belong;
'Tis mine, be it known, by the right of the strong.
Again, as the bravest, the third must be mine.
To touch but the fourth whoso maketh a sign,
I'll choke him to death
In the space of a breath!"
The Two Rats, the Fox, and the Egg.
Two rats in foraging fell on an egg,--
For gentry such as they
A genteel dinner every way;
They needed not to find an ox's leg.
Brimful of joy and appetite,
They were about to sack the box,
So tight without the aid of locks,
When suddenly there came in sight
A personage--Sir Pullet Fox.
Sure, luck was never more untoward
Since Fortune was a vixen froward!
How should they save their egg--and bacon?
Their plunder couldn't then be bagg'd;
Should it in forward paws be taken,
Or roll'd along, or dragg'd?
Each method seem'd impossible,
And each was then of danger full.
Necessity, ingenious mother,
Brought forth what help'd them from their pother.
As still there was a chance to save their prey,--
The sponger yet some hundred yards away,--
One seized the egg, and turn'd upon his back,
And then, in spite of many a thump and thwack,
That would have torn, perhaps, a coat of mail,
The other dragg'd him by the tail.
Who dares the inference to blink,
That beasts possess wherewith to think?
_Were I commission'd to bestow_
_This power on creatures here below,_
_The beasts should have as much of mind_
_As infants of the human kind._