La Fontaine's fables Page 6
The Man and his Image.
A man, who had no rivals in the love
Which to himself he bore,
Esteem'd his own dear beauty far above
What earth had seen before.
More than contented in his error,
He lived the foe of every mirror.
Officious fate, resolved our lover
From such an illness should recover,
Presented always to his eyes
The mute advisers which the ladies prize;--
Mirrors in parlours, inns, and shops,--
Mirrors the pocket furniture of fops,--
Mirrors on every lady's zone,
From which his face reflected shone.
What could our dear Narcissus do?
From haunts of men he now withdrew,
On purpose that his precious shape
From every mirror might escape.
But in his forest glen alone,
Apart from human trace,
Of purest source,
While with unconscious gaze
He pierced its waveless face,
Reflected back his own.
Incensed with mingled rage and fright,
He seeks to shun the odious sight;
But yet that mirror sheet, so clear and still,
He cannot leave, do what he will.
_Ere this, my story's drift you plainly see._
_From such mistake there is no mortal free._
_That obstinate self-lover_
_The human soul doth cover;_
_The mirrors' follies are of others,_
_In which, as all are genuine brothers,_
_Each soul may see to life depicted_
_Itself with just such faults afflicted;_
_And by that charming placid brook,_
_Needless to say, I mean your Maxim Book._
The Dragon with Many Heads.
An envoy of the Porte Sublime,
As history says, once on a time,
Before th' imperial German court
Did rather boastfully report,
The troops commanded by his master's firman,
As being a stronger army than the German:
To which replied a Dutch attendant,
"Our prince has more than one dependant
Who keeps an army at his own expense."
The Turk, a man of sense,
Rejoin'd, "I am aware
What power your emperor's servants share.
It brings to mind a tale both strange and true,
A thing which once, myself, I chanced to view.
I saw come darting through a hedge,
Which fortified a rocky ledge,
A hydra's hundred heads; and in a trice
My blood was turning into ice.
But less the harm than terror,--
The body came no nearer;
Nor could, unless it had been sunder'd,
To parts at least a hundred.
While musing deeply on this sight,
Another dragon came to light,
Whose single head avails
To lead a hundred tails:
And, seized with juster fright,
I saw him pass the hedge,--
Head, body, tails,--a wedge
Of living and resistless powers.--
The other was your emperor's force; this ours."
Death and the Woodman
A poor wood-chopper, with his fagot load,
Whom weight of years, as well as load, oppress'd,
Sore groaning in his smoky hut to rest,
Trudged wearily along his homeward road.
At last his wood upon the ground he throws,
And sits him down to think o'er all his woes.
To joy a stranger, since his hapless birth,
What poorer wretch upon this rolling earth?
No bread sometimes, and ne'er a moment's rest;
Wife, children, soldiers, landlords, public tax,
All wait the swinging of his old, worn axe,
And paint the veriest picture of a man unblest.
On Death he calls. Forthwith that monarch grim
Appears, and asks what he should do for him.
"Not much, indeed; a little help I lack--
To put these fagots on my back."
_Death ready stands all ills to cure;_
_But let us not his cure invite._
_Than die, 'tis better to endure,--_
_Is both a manly maxim and a right._
The Hornets and the Bees.
"The artist by his work is known."
A piece of honey-comb, one day,
Discover'd as a waif and stray,
The hornets treated as their own.
Their title did the bees dispute,
And brought before a wasp the suit.
The judge was puzzled to decide,
For nothing could be testified
Save that around this honey-comb
There had been seen, as if at home,
Some longish, brownish, buzzing creatures,
Much like the bees in wings and features.
But what of that? for marks the same,
The hornets, too, could truly claim.
Between assertion, and denial,
The wasp, in doubt, proclaim'd new trial;
And, hearing what an ant-hill swore,
Could see no clearer than before.
"What use, I pray, of this expense?"
At last exclaim'd a bee of sense.
"We've labour'd months in this affair,
And now are only where we were.
Meanwhile the honey runs to waste:
'Tis time the judge should show some haste.
The parties, sure, have had sufficient bleeding,
Without more fuss of scrawls and pleading.
Let's set ourselves at work, these drones and we
And then all eyes the truth may plainly see,
Whose art it is that can produce
The magic cells, the nectar juice."
The hornets, flinching on their part,
Show that the work transcends their art.
The wasp at length their title sees,
And gives the honey to the bees.
_Would God that suits at law with us_
_Might all be managed thus!_
The Oak and the Reed.
The oak one day address'd the reed:--
"To you ungenerous indeed
Has nature been, my humble friend,
With weakness aye obliged to bend.
The smallest bird that flits in air
Is quite too much for you to bear;
The slightest wind that wreathes the lake
Your ever-trembling head doth shake.
The while, my towering form
Dares with the mountain top
The solar blaze to stop,
And wrestle with the storm.
What seems to you the blast of death,
To me is but a zephyr's breath.
Beneath my branches had you grown,
Less suffering would your life have known,
Unhappily you oftenest show
In open air your slender form,
Along the marshes wet and low,
That fringe the kingdom of the storm.
To you, declare I must,
Dame Nature seems unjust."
Then modestly replied the reed:
"Your pity, sir, is kind indeed,
But wholly needless for my sake.
The wildest wind that ever blew
Is safe to me compared with you.
I bend, indeed, but never break.
Thus far, I own, the hurricane
Has beat your sturdy back in vain;
But wait the end." Just at the word,
The tempest's hollow voice was heard.
The North sent forth her fiercest child,
Dark, jagged, pitiless, and wild.
The oak, erect, endured the blow;
The reed bow'd gracefully and low.
But, gathering up its strength once more,
In greater fury than before,
The savage blast
O'erthrew, at last,
That proud, old, sky-encircled head,
Whose feet entwined the empire of the dead!