|Fables, Jean de La
Book V, fables 17, 18, 19, 20, 21
THE HARE AND PARTRIDGE (V,17)
We should not laugh at others' woes, I wis,
For who can boast of never-ending bliss ?
Æsop the sage, whose maxime are so true,
Of this affords examples not a few.
What here in verse I do propose,
Is what he taught before in prose.
A hare and partridge peacefully, they say,
Lived fellow-citizens upon the plain,
When lo ! a pack of hounds appeared one day,
And made the first for shelter run amain :
Down to his deepest hole he went,
There tricked- the hounds, who lost the scent,
And e’en of Glutton was no more afraid.
At last the hare himself betrayed ;
The steam from out his heated body rose
And caught philosophising Caesar's nose.
Ah ! sure the hare is there ; he coursed him wide ;
While Ranger too, who never lied,
Gave tongue the hare was gone again.
At last the wretch lay dying on the plain.
The partridge jeered in language most unmeet.
“ –What ! boasting runner, did ye lose your feet ? ”
Just as she laughed and sneering spoke,
Her turn arrived, and changed her joke.
“ Let things come to the worst,” she thought,
“ My wings will set my foes at nought.”
But she had reckoned in her flight
Without the cruel-taloned kite.
THE EAGLE AND OWL (V,18)
The owl and eagle, all contesting past,
Was there a likeness in a single line ? ”
Made peace, and mutually kissed at last.
As king the one, as owl the other swore,
That they would eat each other’s young no more.
“ You know my chicks ? ” exclaimed Minerva's bird.
“ I don't, ” replied the eagle, “ on my word. ”
“ So much the worse ! ” the fowl of darkness sighed,
“ I fear in that case for their pretty hide.
’Tis odds I ne’er shall see my pets again,
You care for nothing so long as you reign.
For Kings and Gods, whate’er the people say,
Consider everything their lawful prey.
So if you meet my chicks,’tis their last day.”
“ Describe or show them me,” the eagle said,
“ I pledge my word you need not be afraid.”
“ Oh, they are beautiful ! ” the owl replies,
“ Well formed and fine, with pretty sparkling eyes ;
Nothing around to equal them you’ll find,
You’ll recognise them, keeping this in mind :
Remember it, I pray, where’er you go,
Nor let the fatal Sisters work me woe.”
The owl God, made the father of a brood,
Now as he went one night in search of food,
By chance our eagle saw before him sprawl
In hole of some old ruin, or a rock,
I don't know which it was at all
Grim little monsters, fitted but to shock,
With sorrowing looks and with Megæra's cry :
“ They can’t,” he said, “ belong to our ally,
So we the hideous brutes may scrunch ;
His meals, you know, are not a sober lunch.”
The owl returned, and found but legs and wings
Of all his darlings, tender little things !
He wept, and called the gods to his relief,
To punish the vile author of his grief.
On this some one or other now exclaimed :
“ Thyself alone art to be blamed,
Or nature's common law the rather,
That makes the offspring to each father
Appear so fascinating and divine :
Such was the portrait drawn by thee of thine :
THE LION GOING TO WAR (V, 19)
The lion formed a scheme profound,
Held a war-council, sent his heralds round,
To bid his subject beasts prepare.
They all in concert joined the toile to share :
The elephant upon bis back to bear
The battle equipage, which was not light,
And in his usual mariner stand the fight ;
The assault would fall to Bruin's lot ;
The fox might manage many a secret plot ;
The monkey by his tricks amuse the foe.
“ But for the ass,” quoth one, “ pray, let him go,
So stupid ; and the hare so full of fear.”
“ No,” cried the king, “ they’re useful, and I say
That without these our host were incomplete !
The ass will frighten people with his bray,
And for despatches, who the hare can beat ? ”
The prince who's provident and wise,
Can his least useful subjects use ;
He knows which way their talent lies,
And nought do men of sense refuse.
THE BEAR AND TWO COMPANIONS
Two fellows pressed for cash, averse to labour,
Sold a bear's skin to Furrier, their neighbour-
Skin of a bear uncaught and living still,
But one, they said, they were about to kill
“ The very king of bears,” they cried,
“ You'll make a fortune by his hide ;
Of sharpest winter it will stand the test,
And furnish lining for two coats at least.”
Dindenaut did not rate his fleecy kind
So high as they this bear they had to find.
They bound themselves, without the bear's consent,
To give it up at farthest in two days.
The price was fixed, and off our hunters went.
Towards them trots the beast to their amaze.
The bargain's broke : and thunderstruck they stare,
Without a word, or claim upon the bear.
One gained a tree—the other, cold as lead,
Fell on his face, pretending to be dead
Held in his breath, for he had heard it said
That bears but very seldom vent their spite
On bodies motionless and breathless quite.
Sir Bear was cheated, as the story goes,
He thought him lifeless, and stretched out in death ;
Yet to have no remaining doubt,
Close to his nose
Applied his snout,
And smelt the issues of his breath,
Turning him round and round about.
“ A corpse,” he cried, “ away it stinks too strong,”
He said, and through the forest moved along.
Our marchant left the tree, surprised to hear
His neighbour had no other hurt than fear.
“ Where's now the skin,” he cried, “ we praised so much ?
But tell me what he whispered in your ear,
As you together were so near,
And he was turning you with snout and clutch ? ”
“ He told me to look after other wares,
Nor deal in skins of uncaught living bears.”
THE ASS IN LION'S SKIN (V,21)
An ass clad in a lion's skin,
Spread terror all around,
And though he was an ass within,
Each trembled at the sound!
A portion of Jack's ear by chance peeped through,
And the whole trick at once exposed to view.
Ralph with a cudgel did his office quick,
Wild stared the folks who did not know the trick.
They were surprised to see that Ralph, at will,
Could drive a lion to the mill.
Many great people famed in France,
Are chiefly for their courage known
By whom this apologue's familial- grown,
By the bold equipage in which they prance.