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The Oak and the Reed

(Recueil 1, Livre 1, Fable 22)

 

 

The oak one day addressed the reed:

"To you ungenerous indeed

Has nature been, my humble friend,

With weakness aye obliged to bend.

The smallest bird that flits in air

Is quite too much for you to bear;

The slightest wind that wreathes the lake

Your ever-trembling head does shake.

The while, my towering form

Dares with the mountain top

The solar blaze to stop,

And wrestle with the storm.

What seems to you the blast of death,

To me is but a zephyr's breath.

Beneath my branches had you grown,

That spread far round their friendly bower,

Less suffering would your life have known,

Defended from the tempest's power.

Unhappily you oftenest show

In open air your slender form,

Along the marshes wet and low,

That fringe the kingdom of the storm.

To you, declare I must,

Dame Nature seems unjust."

Then modestly replied the reed:

"Your pity, sir, is kind indeed,

But wholly needless for my sake.

The wildest wind that ever blew

Is safe to me compared with you.

I bend, indeed, but never break.

Thus far, I own, the hurricane

Has beat your sturdy back in vain;

But wait the end." Just at the word,

The tempest's hollow voice was heard.

The North sent forth her fiercest child,

Dark, jagged, pitiless, and wild.

The oak, erect, endured the blow;

The reed bowed gracefully and low.

But, gathering up its strength once more,

In greater fury than before,

The savage blast

Overthrew, at last,

That proud, old, sky-encircled head,

Whose feet entwined the empire of the dead!

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 1, Fable 22

 

 

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