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The Rabbits

(Recueil 2, Livre 10, Fable 14)



An Address To The Duke De La Rochefoucauld.

While watching man in all his phases,

And seeing that, in many cases,

He acts just like the brute creation,

I have thought the lord of all these races

Of no less failings showed the traces

Than do his lieges in relation;

And that, in making it, Dame Nature

Has put a spice in every creature

From off the self same spirit stuff

Not from the immaterial,

But what we call ethereal,

Refined from matter rough.

An illustration please to hear.

Just on the still frontier

Of either day or night,

Or when the lord of light

Reclines his radiant head

On his watery bed,

Or when he dons the gear,

To drive a new career,

While yet with doubtful sway

The hour is ruled "between night and day,

Some border forest tree I climb;

And, acting Jove, from height sublime

My fatal bolt at will directing,

I kill some rabbit unsuspecting.

The rest that frolicked on the heath,

Or browsed the thyme with dainty teeth,

With open eye and watchful ear,

Behold, all scampering from beneath,

Instinct with mortal fear.

All, frightened simply by the sound,

Hie to their city underground.

But soon the danger is forgot,

And just as soon the fear lives not:

The rabbits, gayer than before,

I see beneath my hand once more!

Are not mankind well pictured here?

By storms asunder driven,

They scarcely reach their haven,

And cast their anchor, before

They tempt the same dread shocks

Of tempests, waves, and rocks.

True rabbits, back they frisk

To meet the self same risk!

I add another common case.

When dogs pass through a place

Beyond their customary bounds,

And meet with others, curs or hounds,

Imagine what a holiday!

The native dogs, whose interests centre

In one great organ, termed the venter,

The strangers rush at, bite, and bay;

With cynic pertness tease and worry,

And chase them off their territory.

So, too, do men. Wealth, grandeur, glory,

To men of office or profession,

Of every sort, in every nation,

As tempting are, and sweet,

As is to dogs the refuse meat.

With us, it is a general fact,

One sees the latest come attacked,

And plundered to the skin.

Coquettes and authors we may view,

As samples of the sin;

For woe to belle or writer new!

The fewer eaters round the cake,

The fewer players for the stake,

The surer each one's self to take.

A hundred facts my truth might test;

But shortest works are always best.

In this I but pursue the chart

Laid down by masters of the art;

And, on the best of themes, I hold,

The truth should never all be told.

Hence, here my sermon ought to close.

O you, to whom my fable owes

Whatever it has of solid worth,

Who, great by modesty as well as birth,

Have ever counted praise a pain,

Whose leave I could so ill obtain

That here your name, receiving homage,

Should save from every sort of damage

My slender works which name, well known

To nations, and to ancient Time,

All France delights to own;

Herself more rich in names sublime

Than any other earthly clime;

Permit me here the world to teach

That you have given my simple rhyme

The text from which it dares to preach.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 10, Fable 14



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