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The Horoscope

(Recueil 2, Livre 8, Fable 16)

 

 

On death we mortals often run,

Just by the roads we take to shun.

A father's only heir, a son,

Was over loved, and doted on

So greatly, that astrology

Was questioned what his fate might be.

The man of stars this caution gave

That, till twenty years of age,

No lion, even in a cage,

The boy should see, his life to save.

The sire, to silence every fear

About a life so very dear,

Forbade that any one should let

His son beyond his threshold get.

Within his palace walls, the boy

Might all that heart could wish enjoy

Might with his mates walk, leap, and run,

And frolic in the wildest fun.

When come of age to love the chase,

That exercise was often depicted

To him as one that brought disgrace,

To which but blackguards were addicted.

But neither warning nor derision

Could change his ardent disposition.

The youth, fierce, restless, full of blood,

Was prompted by the boiling flood

To love the dangers of the wood.

The more opposed, the stronger grew

His mad desire. The cause he knew,

For which he was so closely pent;

And as, wherever he went,

In that magnificent abode,

Both tapestry and canvas showed

The feats he did so much admire,

A painted lion roused his ire.

"Ah, monster!" cried he, in his rage,

It's you that keep me in my cage."

With that, he clinched his fist,

To strike the harmless beast

And did his hand impale

On a hidden nail!

And thus this cherished head,

For which the healing art

But vainly did its part,

Was hurried to the dead,

By caution blindly meant

To shun that sad event.

The poet Aeschylus, it's said,

By much the same precaution bled.

A conjuror foretold

A house would crush him in its fall;

Forth sallied he, though old,

From town and roof protected hall,

And took his lodgings, wet or dry,

Abroad, beneath the open sky.

An eagle, bearing through the air

A tortoise for her household fare,

Which first she wished to break,

The creature dropped, by sad mistake,

Plump on the poet's forehead bare,

As if it were a naked rock

To Aeschylus a fatal shock!

From these examples, it appears,

This art, if true in any wise,

Makes men fulfil the very fears

Engendered by its prophecies.

But from this charge I justify,

By branding it a total lie.

I don't believe that Nature's powers

Have tied her hands or pinioned ours,

By marking on the heavenly vault

Our fate without mistake or fault.

That fate depends on conjunctions

Of places, persons, times, and tracks,

And not on the functions

Of more or less of quacks.

A king and clown beneath one planet's nod

Are born; one wields a sceptre, one a hod.

But it is Jupiter that wills it so!

And who is he? A soulless clod.

How can he cause such different powers to flow

On the aforesaid mortals here below?

And how, indeed, to this far distant ball

Can he impart his energy at all?

How pierce the ether deeps profound,

The sun and globes that whirl around?

A mote might turn his potent ray

For ever from its earthward way.

Will find, it, then, in starry cope,

The makers of the horoscope?

The war with which all Europe's now afflicted

Deserves it not by them to've been predicted?

Yet heard we not a whisper of it,

Before it came, from any prophet.

The suddenness of passion's gush,

Of wayward life the headlong rush,

Permit they that the feeble ray

Of twinkling planet, far away,

Should trace our winding, zigzag course?

And yet this planetary force,

As steady as it is unknown,

These fools would make our guide alone

Of all our varied life the source!

Such doubtful facts as I relate

The petted child's and poet's fate

Our argument may well admit.

The blindest man that lives in France,

The smallest mark would doubtless hit

Once in a thousand times—by chance.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 8, Fable 16

 

 

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