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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 VI, fables 9, 10, 11, 12
 

THE STAG SEEING HIMSELF IN THE WATER
(VI, 9)

A stag drew near a crystal brook one morn,
And praised the beauty of his antlered horn ;
            Yet gave to nature little thanks,
            As he beheld his spindle-shanks
            Reflected in the liquid bed.
“ What symmetry, ” he cried, “ of feet and head !
            My horns above the copse arise,
But I may well my legs and feet despise.”
            Whilst this the stag was heard to say,
            A blood-hound made him flee away :
            He thought to find some hiding-place,
            And to the forests ran apace.
            The luckless horns that decked his brow,
            At every instant checked him now ;
            And did all services prevent,
            His heels so kindly would have lent.
He now recanted, seeing death so near,
And cursed those horns by Heaven renewed each year.

We prize the beautiful, the good despise,
While in the former oft our ruin lies:
The stag decried his nimble feet that day,
And praised his horns where his destruction lay.

 

THE HARE AND TORTOISE (VI, 10)
To run is nothing ; we must timely start.
The hare and tortoise here shall teach the art.
“ Let's bet,” the tortoise said, “ my clever spark,
Which, you or I, the first shall gain that mark.”
“ The first ? what, are you mad ? “ the hare replied
“ Take hellebore and purge ; your talk is wide.”
“ Well, mad or not, I’ll bet !” the tortoise cried.—
       The stakes accordingly were paid,
       And near the winning-post were laid.
What were the stakes we won't say in this place,
       Nor who it was that judged the race.
       The hare had scarce four jumps to make,
Of such as, nearly caught, he’s wont to take ;
Leaving the hounds behind, who then may wait
For the Greek Kalends, roaming until late.
       Taking his time, to feast at ease,
       And list and sniff whence comes the breeze,
       The hare lets now the tortoise go,
       Like a grave bishop pacing slow.
         And now behold the tortoise gone,
       Toiling, hastening slowly on.
       The hare the bet but little prized,
       And such a victory despised ;
       He thought, in his great pride of heart,
       ’Twas yet too soon for him to start.
         So, browsing, resting at his ease,
       Oblivious of his bet, he sees
The tortoise the wished goal about to gain,
He sprang like lightning, but he sprang in vain :
The tortoise won just as the hare took flight.
“ Well,” she exclaimed, “ good runner, was I right ?
What means your swiftness, yielding thus to me ?
And if you bore your house, what would it be ? ”


the Hare and Tortoise

Illustr. Christophe
THE ASS AND HIS MASTERS (VI, 11)
A gardener’s ass complained unto the skies
That he was forced before the sun to rise ;
“ The cocks,” he cried, “ tell me the hour in vain,
’ I'm up before, and trudging o'er the plain.
And why ? to bear the market-greens indeed ! ;
Is there to break my rest for that such need ? ”
The beast of burthen’s plaint was heard of Fate
Who kindly changed his master and his state.
From gardener into currier's hands he fell ;
But there the heavy hides and filthy smell
Soon rendered saucy Jackey quite unwell.
“ I've played the fool, I see, to my dismay,”
Said he : “ when my first master turned away
His head, I from my burthen sometimes caught
             A cabbage leaf which cost me nought.
But here's no windfall ; if I any find,
It is hard thumps and blows of every kind ! ”
He got his fortune changed again, and passed
          To a coal-dealer's hands at last.
Still more complaint. “ What ! ” Fate in anger cried,
“ Must I thus with an ass be occupied
As much as with a hundred kings beside ?
Thinks he that sorrow is to him confined ?
And that I've nothing but an ass to mind ? ”
Fate reasoned right :—for every murmuring sot
Is discontented with his present lot.
We weary Heaven to gratify our will,
And even when gratified, we murmur still.
 

THE SUN AND FROGS (VI, 12)
The people, on a tyrant's wedding-day,
Drowned all their care in drinking, noise, and play ;
Æsop alone thought they were worse than mad,
To show such folly on a day so sad.

             “ The sun,” he cried, “ once thought to wed,
And scorch creation from his burning bed.
The marshy citizens, with sudden cries
Bewailed their fate, as they invoked the skies :
’ Should he have children, we are all undone !
Hardly,’ they said, can we support one sun ;
             But half-a-dozen suns or so
Would dry the sea and kill the tribes below.
Farewell to reeds and pools, our race no more
Will drink, except upon the Stygian shore.”

For animals so silly, let me say,
I think they reasoned pretty well that day.



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