|Fable, Jean de La
fables 3, 4, 5, 6
THE LION, WOLF, AND FOX. (VIII, 3)
A Feeble lion, gouty, given o'er,
Desired some remedy for his old age.
Tell kings that remedy avails no more,
'Tis waste of words, that but excites their rage.
Ours ordered doctors in of every kind,
For skilled there are in every branch we find.
They to the lion came from their retreats,
From every ride came givers of receipts.
Among the visitors to show their skill,
The fox dispensed with going, and lay still.
Hence fawned the wolf, his absent friend belied,
As the king went to bed, when quick he cried :
" He shall be stifled in his room with smoke !
First bring him here." The fox appeared and spoke,
Knowing the wolf had injured him at court :
" Sire, I'm afraid that some unfair report
May for contempt have taken my delay
Thus to condole with you, and homage pay.
I've been, dread sire, on pilgrimage by stealth,
To pay the vows I promised for your health.
Wise men and skilful met I on the way ;
I told them of your majesty's decay,
And your own fears from danger but too great.
Sire, all you want, they said, is heat,
Which age in you has quenched within.;
Of a wolf flayed alive, then, wear the skin,
Quite hot and smoking from his body peeled ;
A secret doubtless ne'er before revealed :
It gives to wasting nature life and ease.
Here good Sir Wolf will serve you, if you please,
With chamber-robe so very choice."
The monarch relished the advice :
The wolf was flayed, and cut up in a trice ;
Warm in his skin the king wrapt up,
Upon his body straight sat down to sup.
Cease, courtiers, cease to work each other's woe,
And while ye flatter, deal no treacherous blow :
Quadruple wrath may wait you on the throne,
Which ye think calumny has made your own.
Ye run a race, and as the swiftest choose,
Nothing is pardoned to the men that lose.
THE POWER OF FABLES.
TO M. DE BARILLON (VIII,4)
.........Can diplomatic dignity
To vulgar fables ever condescend ?
Will you my tales and their light grace attend ?
Or if they lift their eyes on high,
Will you not deem them impudently bold ?
You've something else to do, I'm told.
Besides, it might not suit your mental habit
......... To read about a weasel and a rabbit.
Well, read or don't read as you please,
But give us from fierce war some ease.
Let foes arise e'en where you will,
But keep us friends with England skill.
That our two kings should not be friends
I cannot think suits England's ends.
Besides, it's time that Louis took some rest,
What other Hercules would not be tired
Of combating this Hydra ? must his crest
Again be strangled, in his grasp admired ?
Sir ! if your subtle spirit can go so far
As to melt hearts and turn aside this war,
Your skill and eloquence shall have their price,
A hundred sheep I’ll make a sacrifice.
No little gift from one who lives on verse,
Accept the tale I now rehearse,
And with it my good wishes let me tell ;
The subject of the fable suits you well.
Envy allows that praise is justly due
To one who needs no help,—in fine, to you.
In Athens once—a people light and vain—
An orator * the public danger saw,
Flew to the chair, and with commanding strain
Tried all bis powers the public mind to draw ;
Upon their common safety dwelt with force.
They stopped their ears. The speaker had recourse
To those bold figures that like thunders roll,
And animate the most besotted soul.
He gave the dead a voice, spoke all his mind.
All heard unmoved, 'twas speaking to the wind.
The beast with frivolous heads, his features such,
Scorned to acknowledge he had power to touch.
All round them stared ; while some, with wild delight,
Moved off to look and laugh at children fight.
The speaker paused, another marner tried :
" Ceres a journey took one day," he cried, "
Together with a swallow and an eel,
Till stopped upon a river's side :
The eel and swallow braved the tide ;
Across they, gliding, darting, steal "—
Here suddenly the whole assembly cried
" And what did Ceres do ? "
" Do ? why, her wrath was kindled against you.
What ! can a childish tale your ear command,
And you, of all the Greeks, not see the ruin
.....That menaces your native land !
Why don't ye ask what Philip now is doing ? "
The apologue gave such a stroke,
That all the assembly straight awoke ;
The speaker gained the giddy crew
The honour is to fiction due.
We're all from Athens in this point of view, And I myself, while moralizing too
If I the tale of the Ass-skin should hear, I’d listen to it with a well-pleased ear.
The world is old, they say ; Iown it-still
We must sometimes indulge its childish will.
THE MAN AND FLEA (VIII, 5)
The gods we often weary with our prayers
For things unworthy of us, or their cares.
'Twould seem that Heaven to all that we have here
Must ever look, and ever lend an ear ;
And that the silliest mortal of our race,
For every trifle, and with every case,
Might bribe Olympus, and the gods decoy,
As if the subject still were Greece and Troy.
A flea that bit the shoulder of a fool
The blanket gained, and hid among the wool.
" 0 Hercules ! " within himself he said,
" Why let this hydra still the earth invade,
Monsters that come in Spring by crowds ?
What art thou doing, Jove, above the clouds,
Not to avenge me for the wounds they've made ?"
The sot had gladly set the gods asunder,
And for his flea brought down their clubs and thunder.
THE WOMEN AND THE SECRET. (VIII, 6)
A secret is a heavy load, they say,
Which ladies carry but a little way ;
And I know also, for my share,
Many good men who women are.
A man, to prove his wife one night,
As she lay slumbering by his aide,
Roared with the utmost horror and affright
" I'm lost ! I'm killed ! I can't the pain abide !
I'm bringing forth an egg !—an egg ! " he cried ;
" Ay, there it is, new laid and fresh ; but then,
Keep it a secret, or they'll call me hen.
Be close, I say."—The wife was tricked once more,
As oft in other things she'd been before ;
Yet secresy by her great gods she swore.
But with the flying shades of night
The woman's oath, alas ! took flight.
Simple as indiscreet, from her repose
She with Aurora all impatient rose,
And to a gossip thus she let it out :
" Neighbour, the strangest thing has come about—
But first, don't blab—my man would beat me sore ;
He just has laid an egg as big as four.
For God's sake keep the mystery close, d'ye mind,
Nor whisper it to any living kind."
" What !" said the other, " do you jeer ?
You don't yet know me—never fear."
The layer's wife returned to her abode,
Her neighbour went to tell the tale abroad.
To many a person told it she,
And multiplied the egg to three
Nor stopped it there—one gossip swore,
In a sly whisper, there were four.
Needless precaution, by the way,
For now the secret open lay.
And as from mouth to mouth it goes,
Thanks to renown,
The number to a hundred rose
....... Before the sun was down.
|Illustration : A. Delierre