Javascript Menu by Deluxe-Menu.com the saying of Socrates, the old Man and Sons, the oracle and infidel, the miser who lost his treasure
portrait de Jean de La Fontaine le corbeau de la fable jardin de la maison natale actuellement le perron de l'entrée de la maison
Fables, Jean de La Fontaine 
Book IV, fables 17, 18, 19, 20
 

THE SAYING OF SOCRATES (IV, 17)
As Socrates his mansion reared one day,
Each blamed his plan, and something had to say ;
One thought the inside—and he spoke it frank
Unworthy of his character and rank ;
The front some censured,—and concluded all
That the apartments were by far too small :
How great a host for such a humble hall !
      “ Heaven grant,” he said, “ to make amends,
      It may be filled with real friends ! ”
The sage was right, his house was not too small
      You may be sure, to hold them all.
Each calls himself a friend. But let's beware ;
The name's as common as the thing is rare.

THE OLD MAN AND SONS (IV, 18)
      Union alone is strong to save ;
      On this consult the Phrygian slave. –
If I to his invention add some rhymes,
'Tis not from envy, but to paint our times.
Phœdrus for glory often raised his flight,
But far from me to try his daring height ;
Such thought in me were unbecoming quite.
But here the tale or fable I recall,
Of one who wished his sons united all.

A sire, death's summons ready to obey,
Called round his sons, and to them thus did say :
“ To break these darts let all your strength be tried,
And I'll explain why by this knot they're tied.”
The eldest tried with all his strength of man,
But soon relinquished ; then the next began,
With proper posture, but with fruitless pain :
The youngest tried his strength alike in vain.
They lost their time, broke not a single one,
The darts passed all unharmed from son to son.
“ Poor creatures ! ” cried the sire, “ so I must show,
In such a case, what my weak arms can do.”
They smiled, and thought he joked ; ’twas all they knew.
He took and snapt them, one by one, in two.
“ See concord’s power, ” he cried ; “ therefore, as long
As you’re in love allied, you will be strong.”
Such was his counsel to his latest breath.
At last he felt the heavy hand of Death :
“ Dear youths ! I go to join my kindred clay ;
Farewell, but let my counsel with you stay ;
My last request, like brothers still agree.”
They gave their promise, weeping all the three.
He took their hands, he died, and now they saw
Great riches theirs, but all involved in law.
One seized their goods, another sued and pleaded ;
At first our trio happily succeeded.
Alas ! their friendship was as short as rare ;
Blood formed the ties, but interest entered there.
Envy and pride, counsel and foul debate,
Soon took possession of the fair estate.
To share it, they contest with one another ;
The judge, by turns, and oft, condemns each brother.
While creditors and neighbours come amain,
Those by default, and these by error gain.
The brothers quarrelling in judgment sever ;
One said, “ Let us agree,” but t'other “ Never.”
All lost their wealth, and when too late they found
Good counsel in the darts their father bound.


THE ORACLE AND INFIDEL (IV, 19)
          Earth’s greatest folly is to try
To cheat the Gods or trifle with the sky,
To which the heart must still uncovered lie ;
For all our deeds, in lowest darkness done,
Arise revealed before the heavenly throne.
           
            A pagan, who his creed did make
Suit his convenience, worthy of the stake,
Went to consult Apollo the divine,
And said, when set before the sacred shrine :
“ Is what's within my hand alive or dead ? ”
He held a sparrow, it is said,
Ready to kill or let it fly,
And give Apollo thus the lie.
Apollo saw the project in his head
“ Dead or alive,” he said, “ show me the sparrow
And cesse to set before me such a trap,
Anotber trick may cause thee dire mishap ;
I see afar, far reaches too my arrow ! ”

THE MISER WHO LOST HIS TREASURE (IV, 20)
To use is to possess the wealth we hold.
What mean the men whose passion is for gold,
Still adding sum to sum and heap to heap ?
What good above their neighbours do they reap ?
Diogenes of old was rich as they,
And misers are the beggars of our day.
The man that hid his gold, whom .Ǽsop drew,
Brings here a fit example to our view.
This wretch expected to enjoy his wealth,
To have a second lease of life and health ;
Yet had no gold, for gold possessed his soul,
And both were buried in his hiding-hole.
All that it yielded, when ’twas out of sight,
Was toil by day, and torment through the night,
For fear his sacred substance should take flight.
Whate’er he did, whether he waked or slept,
Hardly a moment but his thoughts he kept
On the dear spot where all his treasure lay.
At last a ditcher marked his walks one day,
Suspected—searched—and bore the box away.
Our miser came, and found an empty nest ;
He sighed—he wept—and smote his tortured breast.
                     “ Master, what makes you cry ?”
                     Exclaimed a passer-by.—
           “I'm robbed,” he said, “ my gold is gone.”
“ Your gold ! where was it lost ?”— “ Just by this Stone.”‑
“ -What ! ”cried the other, “are we then at war,
That you should hide it from your home so far ?
Why not have kept it there with bolt and bar ?
You might have dipped into it every hour.”—
“ What ! just because I had it in my power !
Does money come as fast as thrown away ?
I never touched it.”—“ Tell me then, I pray,”
Replied the man, “ why thus give vent to grief ?
           Since you ne'er touched it ; cheat the thief.
           Bury a stone—’tis but the name,
           Its worth to you will be the same ”

the old man and sons

Illustr. J.J. Grandville



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