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The Hornets and the Bees

(Recueil 1, Livre 1, Fable 21)



"The artist by his work is known."

A piece of honey-comb, one day,

Discovered as a waif and stray,

The hornets treated as their own.

Their title did the bees dispute,

And brought before a wasp the suit.

The judge was puzzled to decide,

For nothing could be testified

Save that around this honey-comb

There had been seen, as if at home,

Some longish, brownish, buzzing creatures,

Much like the bees in wings and features.

But what of that? for marks the same,

The hornets, too, could truly claim.

Between assertion, and denial,

The wasp, in doubt, proclaimed new trial;

And, hearing what an ant-hill swore,

Could see no clearer than before.

"What use, I pray, of this expense?"

At last exclaimed a bee of sense.

"We've laboured months in this affair,

And now are only where we were.

Meanwhile the honey runs to waste:

It's time the judge should show some haste.

The parties, sure, have had sufficient bleeding,

Without more fuss of scrawls and pleading.

Let's set ourselves at work, these drones and we,

And then all eyes the truth may plainly see,

Whose art it is that can produce

The magic cells, the nectar juice."

The hornets, flinching on their part,

Show that the work transcends their art.

The wasp at length their title sees,

And gives the honey to the bees.

Would God that suits at laws with us

Might all be managed thus!

That we might, in the Turkish mode,

Have simple common sense for code!

They then were short and cheap affairs,

Instead of stretching on like ditches,

Ingulfing in their course all riches,

The parties leaving for their shares,

The shells (and shells there might be moister)

From which the court has sucked the oyster.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 1, Fable 21



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