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The Funeral of the Lioness

(Recueil 2, Livre 8, Fable 14)

 

 

The lion's consort died:

Crowds, gathered at his side,

Must needs console the prince,

And thus their loyalty evince

By compliments of course;

Which make affliction worse.

Officially he cites

His realm to funeral rites,

At such a time and place;

His marshals of the mace

Would order the affair.

Judge you if all came there.

Meantime, the prince gave way

To sorrow night and day.

With cries of wild lament

His cave he well-nigh rent.

And from his courtiers far and near,

Sounds imitative you might hear.

The court a country seems to me,

Whose people are, no matter what,

Sad, gay, indifferent, or not,

As suits the will of majesty;

Or, if unable so to be,

Their task it is to seem it all

Chameleons, monkeys, great and small.

"Twould seem one spirit serves a thousand bodies

A paradise, indeed, for soulless noddies.

But to our tale again:

The stag graced not the funeral train;

Of tears his cheeks bore not a stain;

For how could such a thing have been,

When death avenged him on the queen,

Who, not content with taking one,

Had choked to death his wife and son?

The tears, in truth, refused to run.

A flatterer, who watched the while,

Affirmed that he had seen him smile.

If, as the wise man somewhere says,

A king's is like a lion's wrath,

What should King Lion's be but death?

The stag, however, could not read;

Hence paid this proverb little heed,

And walked, intrepid, to'ards the throne;

When thus the king, in fearful tone:

"You caitiff of the wood!

Presum'st to laugh at such a time?

Joins not your voice the mournful chime?

We suffer not the blood

Of such a wretch profane

Our sacred claws to stain.

Wolves, let a sacrifice be made,

Avenge your mistress' awful shade."

"Sire," did the stag reply,

The time for tears is quite gone by;

For in the flowers, not far from here,

Your worthy consort did appear;

Her form, in spite of my surprise,

I could not fail to recognise.

"My friend," said she, "beware

Lest funeral pomp about my bier,

When I shall go with gods to share,

Compel thine eye to drop a tear.

With kindred saints I rove

In the Elysian grove,

And taste a sort of bliss

Unknown in worlds like this.

Still, let the royal sorrow flow

Its proper season here below;

It's not unpleasing, I confess.

The king and court scarce hear him out.

Up goes the loud and welcome shout

"A miracle! an apotheosis!"

And such at once the fashion is,

So far from dying in a ditch,

The stag retires with presents rich.

Amuse the ear of royalty

With pleasant dreams, and flattery,

No matter what you may have done,

Nor yet how high its wrath may run,

The bait is swallowed—object won.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 8, Fable 14

 

 

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