Jean de La Fontaine Fables
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They give the simplest brute a teacher's place.
Bare precepts were inert and tedious things;
The story gives them life and wings.
But story for the story's sake
Were sorry business for the wise;
As if, for pill that one should take,
You gave the sugary disguise.
For reasons such as these,
Full many writers great and good
Have written in this frolic mood,
And made their wisdom please.
But tinseled style they all have shunned with care;
With them one never sees a word to spare.
Of Phaedrus some have blamed the brevity,
While Aesop uses fewer words than he.
A certain Greek, however, beats
Them both in his larconic feats.
Each tale he locks in verses four;
The well or ill I leave to critic lore.
At Aesop's side to see him let us aim,
On a theme substantially the same.
The one selects a lover of the chase;
A shepherd comes, the other's tale to grace.
Their tracks I keep, though either tale may grow
A little in its features as I go.
The one which Aesop tells is nearly this:
It's thus the master-author tells the story:
 A certain Greek.Gabrias.La Fontaine. This is Babrias, the Greek
fabulist, to whom La Fontaine gives the older form of his name. La Fontaine's strictures on
this "rival" of Aesop proceed from the fact that he read the author in the corrupted form of
the edition by Ignatius Magister (ninth century). It was not till a century after La
Fontaine wrote, that the fame of Babrias was cleared by Bentley and Tyrwhitt, who brought
his Fables to light in their original form.
 Master-author, etc.The "master-author" is Aesop; the rival, Gabrias, or
Babrias. The last line refers the reader to the following fable for comparison. In the
original editions of La Fontaine, the two fables appear together with the heading "Fables 1.
 A certain Greek.Gabrias.La Fontaine. This is Babrias, the Greek fabulist, to whom La Fontaine gives the older form of his name. La Fontaine's strictures on this "rival" of Aesop proceed from the fact that he read the author in the corrupted form of the edition by Ignatius Magister (ninth century). It was not till a century after La Fontaine wrote, that the fame of Babrias was cleared by Bentley and Tyrwhitt, who brought his Fables to light in their original form.
 Master-author, etc.The "master-author" is Aesop; the rival, Gabrias, or Babrias. The last line refers the reader to the following fable for comparison. In the original editions of La Fontaine, the two fables appear together with the heading "Fables 1. et 2."
Had lost a dog of valued race,
And thought him in a lion's maw.
He asked a shepherd whom he saw,
"Pray show me, man, the robber's place,
And I'll have justice in the case."
"It's on this mountain side,"
The shepherd man replied.
"The tribute of a sheep I pay,
Each month, and where I please I stray."
Out leaped the lion as he spake,
And came that way, with agile feet.
The braggart, prompt his flight to take,
Cried, "Jove, O grant a safe retreat!"
A danger close at hand
 Gabrias, or Babrias; and Aesop. See note to preceding fable.
Espied a traveller on his way,
Whose dress did happily provide
Against whatever might betide.
The time was autumn, when, indeed,
All prudent travellers take heed.
The rains that then the sunshine dash,
And Iris with her splendid sash,
Warn one who does not like to soak
To wear abroad a good thick cloak.
Our man was therefore well bedight
With double mantle, strong and tight.
"This fellow," said the wind, "has meant
To guard from every ill event;
But little does he wot that I
Can blow him such a blast
That, not a button fast,
His cloak shall cleave the sky.
Come, here's a pleasant game, Sir Sun!
Will play?" Said Phoebus, "Done!
We'll bet between us here
Which first will take the gear
From off this cavalier.
Begin, and shut away.
The brightness of my ray."
"Enough." Our blower, on the bet,
Swelled out his pursy form
With all the stuff for storm
The thunder, hail, and drenching wet,
And all the fury he could muster;
Then, with a very demon's bluster,
He whistled, whirled, and splashed,
And down the torrents dashed,
Full many a roof uptearing
He never did before,
Full many a vessel bearing
To wreck on the shore,
And all to doff a single cloak.
But vain the furious stroke;
The traveller was stout,
And kept the tempest out,
Defied the hurricane,
Defied the pelting rain;
And as the fiercer roared the blast,
His cloak the tighter held he fast.
The sun broke out, to win the bet;
He caused the clouds to disappear,
Refreshed and warmed the cavalier,
And through his mantle made him sweat,
Till off it came, of course,
In less than half an hour;
And yet the sun saved half his power.
So much does mildness more than force.
 Aesop and Lokman; also P. Hegemon.
To advertise it, Mercury was sent.
The farmers, far and near,
Flocked round, the terms to hear;
And, calling to their aid
The various tricks of trade,
One said It was rash a farm to hire
Which would so much expense require;
Another, that, do what you would,
The farm would still be far from good.
While thus, in market style, its faults were told,
One of the crowd, less wise than bold,
Would give so much, on this condition,
That Jove would yield him altogether
The choice and making of his weather,
That, instantly on his decision,
His various crops should feel the power
Of heat or cold, of sun or shower.
Jove yields. The bargain closed, our man
 Aesop; and Faerno.
Had almost met a sad mishap.
The story hear him thus relate,
With great importance, to his mother:
"I passed the mountain bounds of this estate,
And off was trotting on another,
Like some young rat with nothing to do
But see things wonderful and new,
When two strange creatures came in view.
The one was mild, benign, and gracious;
The other, turbulent, rapacious,
With voice terrific, shrill, and rough,
And on his head a bit of stuff
That looked like raw and bloody meat,
Raised up a sort of arms, and beat
The air, as if he meant to fly,
And bore his plumy tail on high."
A cock, that just began to crow,
Remember while you live,
The beasts once met, our story says,
Some fit successor to install.
Forth from a dragon-guarded, moated place,
The crown was brought, and, taken from its case,
And being tried by turns on all,
The heads of most were found too small;
Some horned were, and some too big;
Not one would fit the regal gear.
For ever ripe for such a rig,
The monkey, looking very queer,
Approached with antics and grimaces,
And, after scores of monkey faces,
With what would seem a gracious stoop,
Passed through the crown as through a hoop.
The beasts, diverted with the thing,
Did homage to him as their king.
The fox alone the vote regretted,
But yet in public never fretted.
When he his compliments had paid
To royalty, thus newly made,
"Great sire, I know a place," said he,
"Where lies concealed a treasure,
Which, by the right of royalty,
Should bide your royal pleasure."
The king lacked not an appetite
For such financial pelf,
And, not to lose his royal right,
Ran straight to see it for himself.
It was a trap, and he was caught.
Said Renard, "Would you have it thought,
You ape, that you can fill a throne,
And guard the rights of all, alone,
Not knowing how to guard your own?"
The beasts all gathered from the farce,
 Aesop; also Faerno.
And talked, incessantly and loud,
Of nothing but his dam, the mare,
Whose mighty deeds by him recounted were,
This had she done, and had been present there,
By which her son made out his claim
To notice on the scroll of Fame.
Too proud, when young, to bear a doctor's pill;
When old, he had to turn a mill.
As there they used his limbs to bind,
His sire, the ass, was brought to mind.
Misfortune, were its only use
The claims of folly to reduce,
And bring men down to sober reason,
Would be a blessing in its season.
Had found a spot of thrifty grass,
And there turned loose his weary beast.
Old Grizzle, pleased with such a feast,
Flung up his heels, and capered round,
Then rolled and rubbed on the ground,
And frisked and browsed and brayed,
And many a clean spot made.
Armed men came on them as he fed:
"Let's fly," in haste the old man said.
"And why so?" the ass replied;
"With heavier burdens will they ride?"
"No," said the man, already started.
"Then," cried the ass, as he departed,
"I'll stay, and beno matter whose;
Save you yourself, and leave me loose.
But let me tell you, before you go,
(I speak plain French, you know,)
My master is my only foe."
 Phaedras. 1, 15.
A stag admired the branching wood
That high on his forehead stood,
But gave his Maker little thanks
For what he called his spindle shanks.
"What limbs are these for such a head!
So mean and slim!" with grief he said.
"My glorious heads overtops
The branches of the copse;
My legs are my disgrace."
As thus he talked, a bloodhound gave him chase.
To save his life he flew
Where forests thickest grew.
His horns,pernicious ornament!
Arresting him wherever he went,
Did unavailing render
What else, in such a strife,
Had saved his precious life
His legs, as fleet as slender.
Obliged to yield, he cursed the gear
Which nature gave him every year.
Too much the beautiful we prize;
 Aesop; also Phaedrus, 1, 12.
Avails not without a timely start.
The hare and tortoise are my witnesses.
Said tortoise to the swiftest thing that is,
"I'll bet that you'll not reach, so soon as I
The tree on yonder hill we spy."
"So soon! Why, madam, are you frantic?"
Replied the creature, with an antic;
"Pray take, your senses to restore,
A grain or two of hellebore.'
"Say," said the tortoise, "what you will;
I dare you to the wager still."
It was done; the stakes were paid,
And near the goal tree laid
Of what, is not a question for this place,
Nor who it was that judged the race.
Our hare had scarce five jumps to make,
Of such as he is wont to take,
When, starting just before their beaks
He leaves the hounds at leisure,
Thence till the kalends of the Greeks,
The sterile heath to measure.
Thus having time to browse and doze,
And list which way the zephyr blows,
He makes himself content to wait,
And let the tortoise go her gait
In solemn, senatorial state.
She starts; she moils on, modestly and lowly,
And with a prudent wisdom hastens slowly;
But he, meanwhile, the victory despises,
Thinks lightly of such prizes,
Believes it for his honour
To take late start and gain on her.
So, feeding, sitting at his ease,
He meditates of what you please,
Till his antagonist he sees
Approach the goal; then starts,
Away like lightning darts:
But vainly does he run;
The race is by the tortoise won.
Cries she, "My senses do I lack?
What boots your boasted swiftness now?
You're beat! and yet, you must allow,
I bore my house on my back."
 Aesop; also Lokman.
 Hellebore.The ancient remedy for insanity.
 Kalends of the Greeks.The Greeks, unlike the Romans, had no kalends in
their computation of time, hence the frequent use of this expression to convey the idea of
an indefinite period of time.
 Hellebore.The ancient remedy for insanity.
 Kalends of the Greeks.The Greeks, unlike the Romans, had no kalends in their computation of time, hence the frequent use of this expression to convey the idea of an indefinite period of time.
Of being made to rise before the dawn.
"The cocks their matins have not sung," said he,
vere I am up and gone.
And all for what? To market herbs, it seems.
Fine cause, indeed, to interrupt my dreams!"
Fate, moved by such a prayer,
Sent him a currier's load to bear,
Whose hides so heavy and ill-scented were,
They almost choked the foolish beast.
"I wish me with my former lord," he said;
"For then, whenever he turned his head,
If on the watch, I caught
A cabbage-leaf, which cost me nothing.
But, in this horrid place, I find
No chance or windfall of the kind:
Or if, indeed, I do,
The cruel blows I rue."
Anon it came to pass
He was a collier's ass.
Still more complaint. "What now?" said Fate,
Quite out of patience.
"If on this jackass I must wait,
What will become of kings and nations?
Has none but he anything here to tease him?
Have I no business but to please him?"
And Fate had cause;for all are so.
Unsatisfied while here below
Our present lot is aye the worst.
Our foolish prayers the skies infest.
Were Jove to grant all we request,
The din renewed, his head would burst.
The people drowned their care in drink;
While from the general joy did Aesop shrink,
And showed its folly in this way.
"The sun," said he, "once took it in his head
To have a partner for his bed.
From swamps, and ponds, and marshy bogs,
Up rose the wailings of the frogs.
"What shall we do, should he have progeny?"
Said they to Destiny;
"One sun we scarcely can endure,
And half-a-dozen, we are sure,
Will dry the very sea.
Adieu to marsh and fen!
Our race will perish then,
Or be obliged to fix
Their dwelling in the Styx!"
For such an humble animal,
The frog, I take it, reasoned well."
 There is another fable with this title, viz., Fable XXIV., Book 12.
This fable in its earlier form will be found in Phaedrus, 1. 6.
A charitable man, but not so wise,
One day in winter found,
Stretched on the snowy ground,
A chilled or frozen snake,
As torpid as a stake,
And, if alive, devoid of sense.
He took him up, and bore him home,
And, thinking not what recompense
For such a charity would come,
Before the fire stretched him,
And back to being fetched him.
The snake scarce felt the genial heat
Before his heart with native malice beat.
He raised his head, thrust out his forked tongue,
Coiled up, and at his benefactor sprung.
"Ungrateful wretch!" said he, "is this the way
My care and kindness you repay?
Now you shall die." With that his axe he takes,
And with two blows three serpents makes.
Trunk, head, and tail were separate snakes;
And, leaping up with all their might,
They vainly sought to reunite.
It's good and lovely to be kind;
 Aesop; also Phaedrus, 4, 18.
The king of beasts sent out command
That of his vassals every sort
Should send some deputies to court
With promise well to treat
Each deputy and suite;
On faith of lion, duly written,
None should be scratched, much less be bitten.
The royal will was executed,
And some from every tribe deputed;
The foxes, only, would not come.
One thus explained their choice of home:
"Of those who seek the court, we learn,
The tracks on the sand
Have one direction, and
Not one betokens a return.
This fact begetting some distrust,
His majesty at present must
Excuse us from his great levee.
His plighted word is good, no doubt;
But while how beasts get in we see,
We do not see how they get out."
Excuses for our own:
Such is the universal law.
Would you have mercy shown,
Let yours be clearly known.
A fowler's mirror served to snare
 Abstemius, 3.
Should each the other kindly aid;
For, if beneath misfortune's goad
A neighbour falls, on you will fall his load.
There jogged in company an ass and horse;
Most easily deceived.
Should I enumerate these racers,
I should not be believed.
I send them all to Aesop's dog,
Which, crossing water on a log,
Espied the meat he bore, below;
To seize its image, let it go;
Plunged in; to reach the shore was glad,
With neither what he hoped, nor what he'd had.
 Aesop; also Phaedrus, 1, 4.
Once found his cart bemired.
Poor man! the spot was far away
From human helpretired,
In some rude country place,
In Brittany, as near as I can trace,
Near Quimper Corentan,
A town that poet never sang,
Which Fate, they say, puts in the traveller's path,
When she would rouse the man to special wrath.
May Heaven preserve us from that route!
But to our carter, hale and stout:
Fast stuck his cart; he swore his worst,
And, filled with rage extreme,
The mud-holes now he cursed,
And now he cursed his team,
And now his cart and load,
Anon, the like on himself bestowed.
On the god he called at length,
Most famous through the world for strength.
"O, help me, Hercules!" cried he;
"For if your back of yore
This burly planet bore,
Your arm can set me free."
This prayer gone up, from out a cloud there broke
A voice which thus in godlike accents spoke:
"The suppliant must himself bestir,
Before Hercules will aid confer.
Look wisely in the proper quarter,
To see what hindrance can be found;
Remove the execrable mud and mortar,
Which, axle-deep, beset your wheels around.
Your sledge and crowbar take,
And pry me up that stone, or break;
Now fill that rut on the other side.
Have done it?" "Yes," the man replied.
"Well," said the voice, "I'll aid you now;
Take up your whip." "I have ... but, how?
My cart glides on with ease!
I thank you, Hercules."
"Your team," rejoined the voice, "has light ado;
So help yourself, and Heaven will help you too."
 Avianus; also Faerno; also Rabelais, Book 4, ch. 23, Bohn's
More than themselves have lacked their plans.
One sees them on the stage at tricks
Which mock the claims of sullen Styx.
What talents in the streets they post!
One of them used to boast
Such mastership of eloquence
That he could make the greatest dunce
Another Tully Cicero
In all the arts that lawyers know.
"Ay, sirs, a dunce, a country clown,
The greatest blockhead of your town,
Nay more, an animal, an ass,
The stupidest that nibbles grass,
Needs only through my course to pass,
And he shall wear the gown
With credit, honour, and renown."
The prince heard of it, called the man, thus spake:
"My stable holds a steed
Of the Arcadian breed,
Of which an orator I wish to make."
"Well, sire, you can,"
Replied our man.
At once his majesty
Paid the tuition fee.
Ten years must roll, and then the learned ass
Should his examination pass,
According to the rules
Adopted in the schools;
If not, his teacher was to tread the air,
With haltered neck, above the public square,
His rhetoric bound on his back,
And on his head the ears of jack.
A courtier told the rhetorician,
With bows and terms polite,
He would not miss the sight
Of that last pendent exhibition;
For that his grace and dignity
Would well become such high degree;
And, on the point of being hung,
He would bethink him of his tongue,
And show the glory of his art,
The power to melt the hardest heart,
And wage a war with time
By periods sublime
A pattern speech for orators thus leaving,
Whose work is vulgarly called thieving.
"Ah!" was the charlatan's reply,
vere that, the king, the ass, or I,
Shall, one or other of us, die."
And reason good had he;
We count on life most foolishly,
Though hale and hearty we may be.
In each ten years, death cuts down one in three.
 Steed of the Arcadian breed.An ass, as in Fable XVII, Book 8.
 Steed of the Arcadian breed.An ass, as in Fable XVII, Book 8.
Among the gods a general grapple,
And thence a lawsuit, for an apple,
Was turned out, bag and baggage, from the sky.
The animal called man, with open arms,
Received the goddess of such naughty charms,
Herself and Whether-or-no, her brother,
With Thine-and-mine, her stingy mother.
In this, the lower universe,
Our hemisphere she chose to curse:
For reasons good she did not please
To visit our antipodes
Folks rude and savage like the beasts,
Who, wedding-free from forms and priests,
In simple tent or leafy bower,
Make little work for such a power.
That she might know exactly where
Her direful aid was in demand,
Renown flew courier through the land,
Reporting each dispute with care;
Then she, outrunning Peace, was quickly there;
And if she found a spark of ire,
Was sure to blow it to a fire.
At length, Renown got out of patience
At random hurrying over the nations,
And, not without good reason, thought
A goddess, like her mistress, ought
To have some fixed and certain home,
To which her customers might come;
For now they often searched in vain.
With due location, it was plain
She might accomplish vastly more,
And more in season than before.
To find, however, the right facilities,
Was harder, then, than now it is;
For then there were no nunneries.
So, Hymen's inn at last assigned,
 La Fontaine, gentle reader, does not mean to say that Discord lodges
with all married people, but that the foul fiend is never better satisfied than when she
can find such accommodation.Translator.
The widow sobs, sheds tearsthen dries.
Of Time the sadness borrows wings;
And Time returning pleasure brings.
Between the widow of a year
And of a day, the difference
Is so immense,
That very few who see her
Would think the laughing dame
And weeping one the same.
The one puts on repulsive action,
The other shows a strong attraction.
The one gives up to sighs, or true or false;
The same sad note is heard, whoever calls.
Her grief is inconsolable,
They say. Not so our fable,
Or, rather, not so says the truth.
To other worlds a husband went
Long books I greatly fear.
I would not quite exhaust my stuff;
The flower of subjects is enough.
To me, the time is come, it seems,
To draw my breath for other themes.
Love, tyrant of my life, commands
That other work be on my hands.
I dare not disobey.
Once more shall Psyche be my lay.
I'm called by Damon to portray
Her sorrows and her joys.
I yield: perhaps, while she employs,
My muse will catch a richer glow;
And well if this my laboured strain
Shall be the last and only pain
Her spouse shall cause me here below.
 Her spouse.Cupid, the spouse of Psyche. The "other work on my hands" mentioned in this Epilogue (the end of the poet's first collection of Fables) was no doubt the writing of his "Psyche," which was addressed to his patron the Duchess de Bouillon, and published in 1659, the year following the publication of the first six Books of the Fables.
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