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Book 11

The Lion [1]

Some time ago, a sultan Leopard,
By means of many a rich escheat,
Had many an ox in meadow sweet,
And many a stag in forest, fleet,
And (what a savage sort of shepherd!)
Full many a sheep on the plains,
That lay within his wide domains.
Not far away, one morn,
There was a lion born.
Exchanged high compliments of state,
As is the custom with the great,
The sultan called his vizier Fox,
Who had a deeper knowledge-box,
And said to him, "This lion's whelp you dread;
What can he do, his father being dead?
Our pity rather let him share,
An orphan so beset with care.
The luckiest lion ever known,
If, letting conquest quite alone,
He should have power to keep his own."
Sir Renard said,
And shook his head,
"Such orphans, please your majesty,
Will get no pity out of me.
We ought to keep within his favour,
Or else with all our might endeavour
To thrust him out of life and throne,
Before yet his claws and teeth are grown.
There's not a moment to be lost.
His horoscope I have cast;
He'll never quarrel to his cost;
But then his friendship fast
Will be to friends of greater worth
Than any lion's ever on earth.
Try then, my liege, to make it ours,
Or else to check his rising powers."
The warning fell in vain.
The sultan slept; and beasts and men
Did so, throughout his whole domain,
Till lion's whelp became a lion.
Then came at once the tocsin cry on,
Alarm and fluttering consternation.
The vizier called to consultation,
A sigh escaped him as he said,
"Why all this mad excitement now,
When hope is fled, no matter how?
A thousand men were useless aid, –
The more, the worse, – since all their power
Would be our mutton to devour.
Appease this lion; sole he does exceed
The helpers all that on us feed.
And three has he, that cost him nothing –
His courage, strength, and watchful thought.
Quick send a wether for his use:
If not contented, send him more;
Yes, add an ox, and see you choose
The best our pastures ever bore.
Thus save the rest." – But such advice
The sultan spurned, as cowardice.
And his, and many states beside,
Did ills, in consequence, betide.
However fought this world allied,
The beast maintained his power and pride.
If you must let the lion grow,
Don't let him live to be your foe.

[1] The fable of the young Leopard in the Bidpai collection resembles this.

2. The Gods Wishing to Instruct a Son of Jupiter [2]

For Monseigneur The Duke Du Maine.

To Jupiter was born a son,[3]
Who, conscious of his origin,
A godlike spirit had within.
To love, such age is little prone;
Yet this celestial boy
Made love his chief employ,
And was beloved wherever known.
In him both love and reason
Sprang up before their season.
With charming smiles and manners winning,
Had Flora decked his life's beginning,
As an Olympian became:
Whatever lights the tender flame, –
A heart to take and render bliss, –
Tears, sighs, in short the whole were his.
Jove's son, he should of course inherit
A higher and a nobler spirit
Than sons of other deities.
It seemed as if by Memory's aid –
As if a previous life had made
Experiment and hid it –
He plied the lover's hard-learned trade,
So perfectly he did it.
Still Jupiter would educate
In manner fitting to his state.
The gods, obedient to his call,
Assemble in their council-hall;
When thus the sire: "Companionless and sole,
Thus far the boundless universe I roll;
But numerous other offices there are,
Of which I give to younger gods the care.
I'm now forecasting for this cherished child,
Whose countless altars are already piled.
To merit such regard from all below,
All things the young immortal ought to know."
No sooner had the Thund'rer ended,
Than each his godlike plan commended;
Nor did the boy too little yearn
His lesson infinite to learn.
Said fiery Mars, "I take the part
To make him master of the art
Whereby so many heroes high
Have won the honours of the sky."
"To teach him music be my care,"
Apollo said, the wise and fair;
"And mine," that mighty god replied,
In the Nemaean lion's hide,
"To teach him to subdue
The vices, an envenomed crew,
Like Hydras springing ever new.
The foe of weakening luxury,
The boy divine will learn from me
Those rugged paths, so little trod,
That lead to glory man and god."
Said Cupid, when it came his turn,
"All things from me the boy may learn."

Well spoke the god of love.
What feat of Mars, or Hercules,
Or bright Apollo, lies above
Wit, winged by a desire to please?

[2] This title does not exist in the original editions. It appeared for the first time in the edition of 1709. The original heading to the fable is "For Monseigneur," etc.

[3] To Jupiter was born a son. – Jupiter here is Louis XIV., and his son is the Duke du Maine to whom the fable is addressed. The duke was the son of Louis and Madame de Montespan. He was born at Versailles in 1670; and when La Fontaine wrote this address to him he was about eight years old, and the pupil of Madame de Maintenon, his mother's successor in the affections of the king.

3. The Farmer, the Dog, and the Fox [4]

The wolf and fox are neighbours strange:
I would not build within their range.
The fox once eyed with strict regard
From day to day, a poultry-yard;
But though a most accomplished cheat,
He could not get a fowl to eat.
Between the risk and appetite,
His rogueship's trouble was not slight.
"Alas!" said he, "this stupid rabble
But mock me with their constant gabble;
I go and come, and rack my brains,
And get my labour for my pains.
Your rustic owner, safe at home,
Takes all the profits as they come:
He sells his capons and his chicks,
Or keeps them hanging on his hook,
All dressed and ready for his cook;
But I, adept in art and tricks,
Should I but catch the toughest crower,
Should be brimful of joy, and more.
O Jove supreme! why was I made
A master of the fox's trade?
By all the higher powers, and lower,
I swear to rob this chicken-grower!"
Revolving such revenge within,
When night had stilled the various din,
And poppies seemed to bear full sway
Over man and dog, as locked they lay
Alike secure in slumber deep,
And cocks and hens were fast asleep,
On the populous roost he stole.
By negligence, – a common sin, –
The farmer left unclosed the hole,
And, stooping down, the fox went in.
The blood of every fowl was spilled,
The citadel with murder filled.
The dawn disclosed sad sights, I believe,
When heaps on slaughtered heaps were seen,
All weltering in their mingled gore.
With horror stricken, as of yore,
The sun well nigh shrunk back again,
To hide beneath the liquid main.
Such sight once saw the Trojan plain,
When on the fierce Atrides'[5] head
Apollo's awful anger fell,
And strewed the crimson field with dead:
Of Greeks, scarce one was left to tell
The carnage of that night so dread.
Such slaughter, too, around his tent,
The furious Ajax made, one night,
Of sheep and goats, in easy fight;
In anger blindly confident
That by his well-directed blows
Ulysses fell, or some of those
By whose iniquity and lies
That wily rival took the prize.
The fox, thus having Ajax played,
Bore off the nicest of the brood, –
As many pullets as he could, –
And left the rest, all prostrate laid.
The owner found his sole resource
His servants and his dog to curse.
"You useless puppy, better drowned!
Why did you not your "larum sound?"
"Why did you not the evil shun,"
Said Towser, "as you might have done?
If you, whose interest was more,
Could sleep and leave an open door,
Think you that I, a dog at best,
Would watch, and lose my precious rest?"
This pithy speech had been, in truth,
Good logic in a master's mouth;
But, coming from a menial's lip,
It even lacked the lawyership
To save poor Towser from the whip.

O you who head'st a family,
(An honour never grudged by me,)
You art a patriarch unwise,
To sleep, and trust another's eyes.
Yourself should go to bed the last,
Your doors all seen to, shut and fast.
I charge you never let a fox see
Your special business done by proxy.

[4] Abstemius.

[5] Atrides. – Atreus, or Atrides, king of Mycenae, and grandfather of Agamemnon. He caused his brother Theyestes to banquet on the flesh of his own children. After the repast, proceeds the story, the arms and heads of the murdered children were produced to convince Theyestes of what he had feasted on; and at the deed "the sun shrunk back in his course."

4. The Mogul's Dream [6]

Long since, a Mogul saw, in dream,
A vizier in Elysian bliss;
No higher joy could be or seem,
Or purer, than was ever his.
Elsewhere was dreamed of by the same
A wretched hermit wrapped in flame,
Whose lot even touched, so pained was he,
The partners of his misery.
Was Minos[7] mocked? or had these ghosts,
By some mistake, exchanged their posts?
Surprise at this the vision broke;
The dreamer suddenly awoke.
Some mystery suspecting in it,
He got a wise one to explain it.
Replied the sage interpreter,
"Let not the thing a marvel seem:
There is a meaning in your dream:
If I have anything of knowledge, sir,
It covers counsel from the gods.
While tenanting these clay abodes,
This vizier sometimes gladly sought
The solitude that favours thought;
Whereas, the hermit, in his cot,
Had longings for a vizier's lot."
To this interpretation dared I add,
The love of solitude I would inspire.
It satisfies the heart's desire
With unencumbered gifts and glad –
Heaven-planted joys, of stingless sweet,
Aye springing up beneath our feet.
O Solitude! whose secret charms I know –
Retreats that I have loved – when shall I go
To taste, far from a world of din and noise,
Your shades so fresh, where silence has a voice?
When shall their soothing gloom my refuge be?
When shall the sacred Nine, from courts afar,
And cities with all solitude at war,
Engross entire, and teach their votary
The stealthy movements of the spangled nights,
The names and virtues of those errant lights
Which rule over human character and fate?
Or, if not born to purposes so great,
The streams, at least, shall win my heartfelt thanks,
While, in my verse, I paint their flowery banks.
Fate shall not weave my life with golden thread,
Nor, "neath rich fret-work, on a purple bed,
Shall I repose, full late, my care-worn head.
But will my sleep be less a treasure?
Less deep, thereby, and full of pleasure?
I vow it, sweet and gentle as the dew,
Within those deserts sacrifices new;
And when the time shall come to yield my breath,
Without remorse I'll join the ranks of Death.[8]

[6] The original story of this fable is traced to Sadi, the Persian poet and fabulist, who flourished in the twelfth century. La Fontaine probably found it in the French edition of Sadi's "Gulistan; or the Garden of Flowers" which was published by Andre du Ryer in 1634.

[7] Minos. – Chief judge in the infernal regions.

[8] For some remarks on this fable

5. The Lion, the Monkey, and the Two Asses [9]

The lion, for his kingdom's sake,
In morals would some lessons take,
And therefore called, 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 on the wisest plan
Requires a prince to set his zeal,
And passion for the public weal,
Distinctly and quite high above
A certain feeling called 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;
It's much to moderate its tyrant sway.
By that your majesty august,
Will execute your royal trust,
From folly free and anything 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.
It's 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.

"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 lacks 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, it's 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,
And Lambert[10] loses half his 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.
Full many, in this age of ours, –
Not only among asses,
But in the higher classes,
Whom Heaven has clothed with higher powers, –
Dared they but do it, would exalt
A simple innocence from fault,
Or virtue common and domestic,
To excellence majestic.
I have said too much, perhaps; but I suppose
Your majesty the secret won't disclose,
Since It was your majesty's request that I
This matter should exemplify.
How love of self gives food to ridicule,
I have shown. To prove the balance of my rule,
That justice is a sufferer thereby,
A longer time will take."

It was thus the monkey spake.
But my informant does not state,
That ever the sage did demonstrate
The other point, more delicate.
Perhaps he thought none but a fool
A lion would too strictly school.

[9] This fable is founded on the Latin proverb Asinus asinum fricat.

[10] Lambert. – This was Michael Lambert, master of chamber-music to Louis XIV., and brother-in-law to the Grand Monarque's other great music man, J. B. Lulli, who was chapel-music master.

6. The Wolf and the Fox

Why Aesop gave the palm of cunning,
Over flying animals and running,
To Renard Fox, I cannot tell,
Though I have searched the subject well.
Has not Sir Wolf an equal skill
In tricks and artifices shown,
When he would do some life an ill,
Or from his foes defend his own?
I think he has; and, void of disrespect,
I might, perhaps, my master contradict:
Yet here's a case, in which the burrow-lodger
Was palpably, I own, the brightest dodger.
One night he spied within a well,
Wherein the fullest moonlight fell,
What seemed to him an ample cheese.
Two balanced buckets took their turns
When drawers thence would fill their urns.
Our fox went down in one of these,
By hunger greatly pressed to sup,
And drew the other empty up.
Convinced at once of his mistake,
And anxious for his safety's sake,
He saw his death was near and sure,
Unless some other wretch in need
The same moon's image should allure
To take a bucket and succeed
To his predicament, indeed.
Two days passed by, and none approached the well;
Unhalting Time, as is his wont,
Was scooping from the moon's full front,
And as he scooped Sir Renard's courage fell.
His crony wolf, of clamorous maw,
Poor fox at last above him saw,
And cried, "My comrade, look you here!
See what abundance of good cheer!
A cheese of most delicious zest!
Which Faunus must himself have pressed,
Of milk by heifer Io given.
If Jupiter were sick in heaven,
The taste would bring his appetite.
I have taken, as you see, a bite;
But still for both there is a plenty.
Pray take the bucket that I have sent you;
Come down, and get your share."
Although, to make the story fair,
The fox had used his utmost care,
The wolf (a fool to give him credit)
Went down because his stomach bid it –
And by his weight pulled up
Sir Renard to the top.
We need not mock this simpleton,
For we ourselves such deeds have done.
Our faith is prone to lend its ear
To anything which we desire or fear.
7. The Peasant of the Danube [11]

To judge no man by outside view,
Is good advice, though not quite new.
Some time ago a mouse's fright
On this moral shed some light.
I have for proof at present,
With, Aesop and good Socrates,[12]
Of Danube's banks a certain peasant,
Whose portrait drawn to life, one sees,
By Marc Aurelius, if you please.
The first are well known, far and near:
I briefly sketch the other here.
The crop on his fertile chin
Was anything but soft or thin;
Indeed, his person, clothed in hair,
Might personate an unlicked bear.
Beneath his matted brow there lay
An eye that squinted every way;
A crooked nose and monstrous lips he bore,
And goat-skin round his trunk he wore,
With bulrush belt. And such a man as this is
Was delegate from towns the Danube kisses,
When not a nook on earth there lingered
By Roman avarice not fingered.
Before the senate thus he spoke:
"Romans and senators who hear,
I, first of all, the gods invoke,
The powers whom mortals justly fear,
That from my tongue there may not fall
A word which I may need recall.
Without their aid there enters nothing
To human hearts of good or just:
Whoever leaves the same unsought,
Is prone to violate his trust;
The prey of Roman avarice,
Ourselves are witnesses of this.
Rome, by our crimes, our scourge has grown,
More than by valour of her own.
Romans, beware lest Heaven, some day,
Exact for all our groans the pay,
And, arming us, by just reverse,
To do its vengeance, stern, but meet,
Shall pour on you the vassal's curse,
And place your necks beneath our feet!
And why not? For are you better
Than hundreds of the tribes diverse
Who clank the galling Roman fetter?
What right gives you the universe?
Why come and mar our quiet life?
We tilled our acres free from strife;
In arts our hands were skilled to toil,
As well as over the generous soil.
What have you taught the Germans brave?
Apt scholars, had but they
Your appetite for sway,
They might, instead of you, enslave,
Without your inhumanity.
That which your praetors perpetrate
On us, as subjects of your state,
My powers would fail me to relate.
Profaned their altars and their rites,
The pity of your gods our lot excites.
Thanks to your representatives,
In you they see but shameless thieves,
Who plunder gods as well as men.
By sateless avarice insane,
The men that rule our land from this
Are like the bottomless abyss.
To satisfy their lust of gain,
Both man and nature toil in vain.
Recall them; for indeed we will
Our fields for such no longer till.
From all our towns and plains we fly
For refuge to our mountains high.
We quit our homes and tender wives,
To lead with savage beasts our lives –
No more to welcome into day
A progeny for Rome a prey.
And as to those already born –
Poor helpless babes forlorn! –
We wish them short career in time:
Your praetors force us to the crime.
Are they our teachers? Call them home, –
They teach but luxury and vice, –
Lest Germans should their likes become,
In fell remorseless avarice.
Have we a remedy at Rome?
I'll tell you here how matters go.
Has one no present to bestow,
No purple for a judge or so,
The laws for him are deaf and dumb;
Their minister has aye in store
A thousand hindrances or more.
I'm sensible that truths like these
Are not the things to please.
I have done. Let death avenge you here
Of my complaint, a little too sincere."

He said no more; but all admired
The thought with which his speech was fired;
The eloquence and heart of oak
With which the prostrate savage spoke.
Indeed, so much were all delighted,
As due revenge, the man was knighted.
The praetors were at once displaced,
And better men the office graced.
The senate, also, by decree,
Besought a copy of the speech,
Which might to future speakers be
A model for the use of each.
Not long, however, had Rome the sense
To entertain such eloquence.

[11] La Fontaine got the historical story embodied in this fable from Marcus Aurelius (as he acknowledges), probably through Francois Cassandre's "Paralleles Historiques," 1676, and the translation (from the Spanish of Guevara) titled the "Horloge des Princes," which Grise and De Heberay published at Lyons in 1575.

[12] Aesop and Socrates are usually represented as very ugly.

8. The Old Man and the Three Young Ones [13]

A man was planting at fourscore.
Three striplings, who their satchels wore,
"In building," cried, "the sense were more;
But then to plant young trees at that age!
The man is surely in his dotage.
Pray, in the name of common sense,
What fruit can he expect to gather
Of all this labour and expense?
Why, he must live like Lamech's father!
What use for you, grey-headed man,
To load the remnant of your span
With care for days that never can be thine?
Yourself to thought of errors past resign.
Long-growing hope, and lofty plan,
Leave you to us, to whom such things belong."
"To you!" replied the old man, hale and strong;
"I dare pronounce you altogether wrong.
The settled part of man's estate
Is very brief, and comes full late.
To those pale, gaming sisters trine,
Your lives are stakes as well as mine.
While so uncertain is the sequel,
Our terms of future life are equal;
For none can tell who last shall close his eyes
On the glories of these azure skies;
Nor any moment give us, before it flies,
Assurance that another such shall rise,
But my descendants, whosoever they be,
Shall owe these cooling fruits and shades to me.
Do you acquit yourselves, in wisdom's sight,
From ministering to other hearts delight?
Why, boys, this is the fruit I gather now;
And sweeter never blushed on bended bough.
Of this, tomorrow, I may take my fill;
Indeed, I may enjoy its sweetness till
I see full many mornings chase the glooms
From off the marble of your youthful tombs."
The grey-beard man was right. One of the three,
Embarking, foreign lands to see,
Was drowned within the very port.
In quest of dignity at court,
Another met his country's foe,
And perished by a random blow.
The third was killed by falling from a tree
Which he himself would graft. The three
Were mourned by him of hoary head,
Who chiselled on each monument –
On doing good intent –
The things which we have said.

[13] Abstemius.

9. The Mice and the Owl

Beware of saying, "Lend an ear,"
To something marvellous or witty.
To disappoint your friends who hear,
Is possible, and were a pity.
But now a clear exception see,
Which I maintain a prodigy –
A thing which with the air of fable,
Is true as is the interest-table.
A pine was by a woodman felled,
Which ancient, huge, and hollow tree
An owl had for his palace held –
A bird the Fates[14] had kept in fee,
Interpreter to such as we.
Within the caverns of the pine,
With other tenants of that mine,
Were found full many footless mice,
But well provisioned, fat, and nice.
The bird had bit off all their feet,
And fed them there with heaps of wheat.
That this owl reasoned, who can doubt?
When to the chase he first went out,
And home alive the vermin brought,
Which in his talons he had caught,
The nimble creatures ran away.
Next time, resolved to make them stay,
He cropped their legs, and found, with pleasure,
That he could eat them at his leisure;
It were impossible to eat
Them all at once, did health permit.
His foresight, equal to our own,
In furnishing their food was shown.
Now, let Cartesians, if they can,
Pronounce this owl a mere machine.
Could springs originate the plan
Of maiming mice when taken lean,
To fatten for his soup-tureen?
If reason did no service there,
I do not know it anywhere.
Observe the course of argument:
These vermin are no sooner caught than gone:
They must be used as soon, it's evident;
But this to all cannot be done.
And then, for future need,
I might as well take heed.
Hence, while their ribs I lard,
I must from their elopement guard.
But how? – A plan complete! –
I'll clip them of their feet!
Now, find me, in your human schools,
A better use of logic's tools!
On your faith, what different art of thought
Has Aristotle or his followers taught?[15]

[14] A bird the Fates, etc. – The owl was the bird of Atropos, the most terrible of the Fates, to whom was entrusted the task of cutting the thread of life.

[15] La Fontaine, in a note, asserts that the subject of this fable, however marvellous, was a fact which was actually observed. His commentators, however, think the observers must have been in some measure mistaken, and I agree with them. – Translator. In Fable 1, Book 10, La Fontaine also argues that brutes have reasoning faculties.


It's thus, by crystal fount, my muse has sung,
Translating into heavenly tongue
Whatever came within my reach,
From hosts of beings borr'wing nature's speech.
Interpreter of tribes diverse,
I have made them actors on my motley stage;
For in this boundless universe
There's none that talketh, simpleton or sage,
More eloquent at home than in my verse.
If some should find themselves by me the worse,
And this my work prove not a model true,
To that which I at least rough-hew,
Succeeding hands will give the finish due.
You pets of those sweet sisters nine,
Complete the task that I resign;
The lessons give, which doubtless I have omitted,
With wings by these inventions nicely fitted!
But you're already more than occupied;
For while my muse her harmless work has plied,
All Europe to our sovereign yields,[16]
And learns, on her battle-fields,
To bow before the noblest plan
That ever monarch formed, or man.
Thence draw those sisters themes sublime,
With power to conquer Fate and Time.[17]

[16] All Europe to our sovereign yields. – An allusion to the conclusion of the peace of Nimeguen by Louis XIV., in 1678. Louis to some extent negotiated the treaty of this peace in person, and having bought the support of the English king, Charles 2. (as shown in the note to Fable 18, Book 7) the terms of the treaty were almost his own. The glory of the achievement procured for Louis the surname of "le Grand." The king's praises on this account are further sounded by La Fontaine in Fable 10, Book 12.

[17] With the Epilogue to the XIth Book La Fontaine concluded his issue of Fables up to 1678-9. The XIIth and last Book was not added till 1694, the year before the poet's death.



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