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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