Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fables of La Fontaine, Dancing Goats and Fighting Roosters

Philomel And Progne 

From home and city spires, one day,
The swallow Progne flew away,
And sought the bosky dell
Where sang poor Philomel.
"My sister," Progne said, "how do you do?
It's now a thousand years since you
Have been concealed from human view;
I'm sure I have not seen your face
Once since the times of Thrace.
Pray, will you never quit this dull retreat?"
"Where could I find," said Philomel, "so sweet?"
"What! sweet?" cried Progne sweet to waste
Such tones on beasts devoid of taste,
Or on some rustic, at the most!
Should you by deserts be engrossed?
Come, be the city's pride and boast.
Besides, the woods remind of harms
That Tereus in them did your charms."
"Alas!" replied the bird of song,
"The thought of that so cruel wrong
Makes me, from age to age,
Prefer this hermitage;
For nothing like the sight of men
Can call up what I suffered then."
Book 3, Fable 15 


Two bulls engaged in shocking battle,
Both for a certain heifer's sake,
And lordship over certain cattle,
A frog began to groan and quake.
'But what is this to you?'
Inquired another of the croaking crew.
'Why, sister, don't you see,
The end of this will be,
That one of these big brutes will yield,
And then be exiled from the field?
No more permitted on the grass to feed,
He'll forage through our marsh, on rush and reed;
And while he eats or chews the cud,
Will trample on us in the mud.
Alas! to think how frogs must suffer
By means of this proud lady heifer!'
This fear was not without good sense.
One bull was beat, and much to their expense;
For, quick retreating to their reedy bower,
He trod on twenty of them in an hour.

Of little folks it oft has been the fate
To suffer for the follies of the great.

The Two Goats

Since goats have browsed, by freedom fired,
To follow fortune they've aspired.
To pasturage they're wont to roam
Where men are least disposed to come.
If any pathless place there be,
Or cliff, or pendent precipice,
It's there they cut their capers free:
There's nothing can stop these dames, I wis.
Two goats, thus self emancipated,
The white that on their feet they wore
Looked back to noble blood of yore,
Once quit the lowly meadows, sated,
And sought the hills, as it would seem:
In search of luck, by luck they me
Each other at a mountain stream.
As bridge a narrow plank was set,
On which, if truth must be confessed,
Two weasels scarce could go abreast.
And then the torrent, foaming white,
As down it tumbled from the height,
Might well those Amazons affright.
But maugre such a fearful rapid,
Both took the bridge, the goats intrepid!
I seem to see our Louis Grand
And Philip 4. advance
To the Isle of Conference,
That lies "between Spain and France,
Each sturdy for his glorious land.
Thus each of our adventurers goes,
Till foot to foot, and nose to nose,
Somewhere about the midst they meet,
And neither will an inch retreat.
For why? they both enjoyed the glory
Of ancestors in ancient story.
The one, a goat of peerless rank,
Which, browsing on Sicilian bank,
The Cyclop gave to Galataea;
The other famous Amalthaea,
The goat that suckled Jupiter,
As some historians aver.
For want of giving back, in troth,
A common fall involved them both.
A common accident, no doubt,
On Fortune's changeful route.
Jean de La Fontaine
Book 12, Fable 4 

The two roosters

Two roosters in peace were living, when
A war was kindled by a hen.
O love, you bane of Troy! It was thine
The blood of men and gods to shed
Enough to turn the Xanthus red
As old Port wine!
And long the battle doubtful stood:
(I mean the battle of the roosters;)
They gave each other fearful shocks:
The fame spread over the neighborhood,
And gathered all the crested brood.
And Helens more than one, of plumage bright,
Led off the victor of that bloody fight.
The vanquished, drooping, fled,
Concealed his battered head,
And in a dark retreat
Bewailed his sad defeat.
His loss of glory and the prize
His rival now enjoyed before his eyes.
While this he every day beheld,
His hatred kindled, courage swelled:
He whet his beak, and flapped his wings,
And meditated dreadful things.
Waste rage! His rival flew on a roof
And crowed to give his victory proof.
A hawk this boasting heard:
Now perished all his pride,
As suddenly he died
Beneath that savage bird.
In consequence of this reverse,
The vanquished sallied from his hole,
And took the harem, master sole,
For moderate penance not the worse.
Imagine the congratulation,
The proud and stately leading,
Gallanting, coaxing, feeding,
Of wives almost a nation!
It's thus that Fortune loves to flee
The insolent by victory.
We should mistrust her when we beat,
Lest triumph lead us to defeat.
Jean de La Fontaine
Book 7, Fable 14

The Wolf and the Shepherds

A Wolf, replete
With humanity sweet,
(A trait not much suspected,)
On his cruel deeds,
The fruit of his needs,
Profoundly thus reflected.
"I'm hated," said he,
"As joint enemy,
By hunters, dogs, and clowns.
They swear I shall die,
And their hue and cry
The very thunder drowns.

"My brethren have fled,
With price on the head,
From England's merry land.
King Edgar came out,
And put them to rout,
With many a deadly band.

"And there's not a squire
But blows up the fire
By hostile proclamation;
Nor a human brat,
Dares cry, but that
Its mother mocks my nation.

"And all for what?
For a sheep with the rot,
Or scabby, mangy ass,
Or some snarling cur,
With less meat than fur,
On which I have broken fast!

"Well, henceforth I'll strive
That nothing alive
Shall die to quench my thirst;
No lambkin shall fall,
Nor puppy, at all,
To glut my maw accurst.
With grass I'll appease,
Or browse on the trees,
Or die of famine first.

"What of carcass warm?
Is it worth the storm
Of universal hate?"
As he spoke these words,
The lords of the herds,
All seated at their bait,
He saw; and observed
The meat which was served
Was nothing but roasted lamb!
"O! O!" said the beast,
"Repent of my feast
All butcher as I am
On these vermin mean,
Whose guardians even
Eat at a rate quadruple!
Themselves and their dogs,
As greedy as hogs,
And I, a wolf, to scruple!"

"Look out for your wool
I'll not be a fool,
The very pet I'll eat;
The lamb the best looking,
Without any cooking,
I'll strangle from the teat;
And swallow the dam,
As well as the lamb,
And stop her foolish bleat.
Old Hornie, too, rot him,
The sire that begot him
Shall be among my meat!"

Well reasoning beast!
Were we sent to feast
On creatures wild and tame?
And shall we reduce
The beasts to the use
Of vegetable game?

Shall animals not
Have flesh-hook or pot,
As in the age of gold?
And we claim the right,
In the pride of our might,
Themselves to have and hold?
O shepherds, that keep
Your folds full of sheep,
The wolf was only wrong,
Because, so to speak,
His jaws were too weak
To break your palings strong.
Jean de La Fontaine
Book 10, Fable 5 

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The Sick Stag, Fable, La Fontaine

Crop of an engraving showing Jean de La FontaineImage via Wikipedia

The Sick Stag

 A stag, where stags abounded,
Fell sick, and was surrounded
Forthwith by comrades kind,
All pressing to assist,
Or see, their friend, at least,
And ease his anxious mind
An irksome multitude.
"Ah, sirs!" the sick was fain to cry,
"Pray leave me here to die,
As others do, in solitude.
Pray, let your kind attentions cease,
Till death my spirit shall release."
But comforters are not so sent:
On duty sad full long intent,
When Heaven pleased, they went:
But not without a friendly glass;
That is to say, they cropped the grass
And leaves which in that quarter grew,
From which the sick his pittance drew.
By kindness thus compelled to fast,
He died for want of food at last.
The men take off no trifling dole
Who heal the body, or the soul.
Alas the times! do what we will,
They have their payment, cure or kill.
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The Rooster and The Fox, Fable, La Fontaine

The rooster and the Fox

On a tree there mounted guard
A veteran rooster, adroit and cunning;
When to the roots a fox up running,
Spoke thus, in tones of kind regard:
"Our quarrel, brother, is at an end;
Henceforth I hope to live your friend;
For peace now reigns
Throughout the animal domains.
I bear the news: come down, I pray,
And give me the embrace fraternal;
And please, my brother, don't delay.
So much the tidings do concern all,
That I must spread them far today.
Now you and yours can take your walks
Without a fear or thought of hawks.
And should you clash with them or others,
In us you'll find the best of brothers;—
For which you may, this joyful night,
Your merry bonfires light.
But, first, let's seal the bliss
With one fraternal kiss."
"Good friend," the rooster replied, "on my word,
A better thing I never heard;
And doubly I rejoice
To hear it from your voice;
And, really there must be something in it,
For yonder come two greyhounds, which I flatter
Myself are couriers on this very matter.
They come so fast, they'll be here in a minute.
I'll down, and all of us will seal the blessing
With general kissing and caressing."
"Adieu," said fox; "my errand's pressing;
I'll hurry on my way,
And we'll rejoice some other day."
So off the fellow scampered, quick and light,
To gain the fox-holes of a neighbouring height,
Less happy in his stratagem than flight.
The rooster laughed sweetly in his sleeve;
It's doubly sweet deceiver to deceive.
Book 2, Fable 15 

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With mighty rush and roar,
Adown a mountain steep
A torrent tumbled,--swelling o'er
Its rugged banks,--and bore
Vast ruin in its sweep.
The traveller were surely rash
To brave its whirling, foaming dash,
But one, by robbers sorely press'd,
Its terrors haply put to test.
They were but threats of foam and sound,
The loudest where the least profound.
With courage from his safe success,
His foes continuing to press,
He met a river in his course:
On stole its waters, calm and deep,
So silently they seem'd asleep,
All sweetly cradled, as I ween,
In sloping banks, and gravel clean,--
They threaten'd neither man nor horse.
Both ventured; but the noble steed,
That saved from robbers by his speed,
From that deep water could not save;
Both went to drink the Stygian wave;
Both went to cross, (but not to swim,)
Where reigns a monarch stern and grim,
Far other streams than ours.

Still men are men of dangerous powers;
Elsewhere, 'tis only ignorance that cowers.

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The Peacock complaining to Juno, Fables, La Fontaine

The Peacock complaining to Juno

Complained in some such words: 

"Great goddess, you have given 

To me, the laughing-stock of birds, 

A voice which fills, by taste quite just, 

All nature with disgust; 

Whereas that little paltry thing, 

The nightingale, pours from her throat 

So sweet and ravishing a note, 

She bears alone the honors of the spring." 

In anger Juno heard, 

And cried, "Shame on you, jealous bird

Grudge you the nightingale her voice, 

Who in the rainbow neck rejoice, 

Than costliest silks more richly tinted, 

In charms of grace and form unstinted,— 

Who strut in kingly pride, 

Your glorious tail spread wide 

With brilliants which in sheen do 

Outshine the jeweler's bow window? 

Is there a bird beneath the blue 

That has more charms than you? 

No animal in everything can shine. 

By just partition of our gifts divine, 

Each has its full and proper share; 

Among the birds that cleave the air, 

The hawk's a swift, the eagle is a brave one, 

For omens serves the hoarse old raven, 

The rook's of coming ills the prophet; 

And if there's any discontent, 

I have heard not of it. 

"Cease, then, your envious complaint; 

Or I, instead of making up your lack, 

Will take your boasted plumage from your back."

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Footless Mice to Eat at Leisure, Mice and Owl, Fables, La Fontaine

The Mice and the Owl

Beware of saying, "Lend an ear,"
To something marvelous or witty.
To disappoint your friends who hear,
Is possible, and were a pity.
But now a clear exception see,
Which I maintain a prodigy
A thing which with the air of fable,
Is true as is the interest table.
A pine was by a woodman felled,
Which ancient, huge, and hollow tree
An owl had for his palace held
A bird the Fates had kept in fee,
Interpreter to such as we.
Within the caverns of the pine,
With other tenants of that mine,
Were found full many footless mice,
But well provisioned, fat, and nice.
The bird had bit off all their feet,
And fed them there with heaps of wheat.
That this owl reasoned, who can doubt?
When to the chase he first went out,
And home alive the vermin brought,
Which in his talons he had caught,
The nimble creatures ran away.
Next time, resolved to make them stay,
He cropped their legs, and found, with pleasure,
That he could eat them at his leisure;
It were impossible to eat
Them all at once, did health permit.
His foresight, equal to our own,
In furnishing their food was shown.
Now, let Cartesians, if they can,
Pronounce this owl a mere machine.
Could springs originate the plan
Of maiming mice when taken lean,
To fatten for his soup tureen?
If reason did no service there,
I do not know it anywhere.
Observe the course of argument:
These vermin are no sooner caught than gone:
They must be used as soon, it's evident;
But this to all cannot be done.
And then, for future need,
I might as well take heed.
Hence, while their ribs I lard,
I must from their elopement guard.
But how? A plan complete!
I'll clip them of their feet!
Now, find me, in your human schools,
A better use of logic's tools!
On your faith, what different art of thought
Has Aristotle or his followers taught?
Book 11, Fable 9


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The Lobster And Her Daughter, French Fables, La Fontaine

The Lobster And Her Daughter

The wise, sometimes, as lobsters do,
To gain their ends back foremost go.
It is the rower's art; and those
Commanders who mislead their foes,
Do often seem to aim their sight
Just where they don't intend to smite.
My theme, so low, may yet apply
To one whose fame is very high,
Who finds it not the hardest matter
A hundred headed league to scatter.
What he will do, what leave undone,
Are secrets with unbroken seals,
Till victory the truth reveals.
Whatever he would have unknown
Is sought in vain. Decrees of Fate
Forbid to check, at first, the course
Which sweeps at last with torrent force.
One Jove, as ancient fables state,
Exceeds a hundred gods in weight.
So Fate and Louis would seem able
The universe to draw,
Bound captive to their law.
But come we to our fable.
A mother lobster did her daughter chide:
"For shame, my daughter! can't you go ahead?"
"And how go you yourself?" the child replied;
"Can I be but by your example led?
Head foremost should I, singularly, wend,
While all my race pursue the other end."
She spoke with sense: for better or for worse,
Example has a universal force.
To some it opens wisdom's door,
But leads to folly many more.
Yet, as for backing to one's aim,
When properly pursued
The art is doubtless good,
At least in grim Bellona's game.
Book 12, Fable 10

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Lighthouses, full sheet images for photo transfers

Lighthouse Full Sheet Image Transfers, Digital files, previews
All files available at

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