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The Wolf and the Fox

(Recueil 3, Livre 12, Fable 9)



Whence comes it that there lives not

A man contented with his lot?

Here's one who would a soldier be,

Whom soldiers all with envy see.

A fox to be a wolf once sighed.

With disappointments mortified,

Who knows but that, his wolfship cheap,

The wolf himself would be a sheep?

I marvel that a prince is able,

At eight, to put the thing in fable;

While I, beneath my seventy snows,

Forge out, with toil and time,

The same in laboured rhyme,

Less striking than his prose.

The traits which in his work we meet,

A poet, it must be confessed,

Could not have half so well expressed:

He bears the palm as more complete.

It's mine to sing it to the pipe;

But I expect that when the sands

Of Time have made my hero ripe,

He'll put a trumpet in my hands.

My mind but little does aspire

To prophecy; but yet it reads

On high, that soon his glorious deeds

Full many Homers will require

Of which this age produces few.

But, bidding mysteries adieu,

I try my powers on this fable new.

"Dear wolf," complained a hungry fox,

"A lean chick's meat, or veteran cock's,

Is all I get by toil or trick:

Of such a living I am sick.

With far less risk, you've better cheer;

A house you need not venture near,

But I must do it, spite of fear.

Pray, make me master of your trade.

And let me by that means be made

The first of all my race that took

Fat mutton to his larder's hook:

Your kindness shall not be repented."

The wolf quite readily consented.

"I have a brother, lately dead:

Go fit his skin to yours," he said.

It was done; and then the wolf proceeded:

"Now mark you well what must be done,

The dogs that guard the flock to shun."

The fox the lessons strictly heeded.

At first he boggled in his dress;

But awkwardness grew less and less,

Till perseverance gave success.

His education scarce complete,

A flock, his scholarship to greet,

Came rambling out that way.

The new made wolf his work began,

Amidst the heedless nibblers ran,

And spread a sore dismay.

Such terror did Patroclus spread,

When on the Trojan camp and town,

Clad in Achilles' armour dread,

He valiantly came down.

The matrons, maids, and aged men

All hurried to the temples then.

The bleating host now surely thought

That fifty wolves were on the spot:

Dog, shepherd, sheep, all homeward fled,

And left a single sheep in pawn,

Which Renard seized when they were gone.

But, before on his prize he fed,

There crowed a cock near by, and down

The scholar threw his prey and gown,

That he might run that way the faster

Forgetting lessons, prize and master.

How useless is the art of seeming!

Reality, in every station,

Is through its cloak at all times gleaming,

And bursting out on fit occasion.

Young prince, to your unrivalled wit

My muse gives credit, as is fit,

For what she here has laboured with

The subject, characters, and pith.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 12, Fable 9



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