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The Eye of the Master

(Recueil 1, Livre 4, Fable 21)



A stag took refuge from the chase

Among the oxen of a stable,

Who counseled him, as says the fable,

To seek at once some safer place.

"My brothers," said the fugitive,

"Betray me not, and, as I live,

The richest pasture I will show,

That ever was grazed on, high or low;

Your kindness you will not regret,

For well some day I'll pay the debt."

The oxen promised secrecy.

Down crouched the stag, and breathed more free.

At eventide they brought fresh hay,

As was their custom day by day;

And often came the servants near,

As did indeed the overseer,

But with so little thought or care,

That neither horns, nor hide, nor hair

Revealed to them the stag was there.

Already thanked the wild-wood stranger

The oxen for their treatment kind,

And there to wait made up his mind,

Till he might issue free from danger.

Replied an ox that chewed the cud,

"Your case looks fairly in the bud;

But then I fear the reason why

Is, that the man of sharpest eye

Has not yet come his look to take.

I dread his coming, for your sake;

Your boasting may be premature:

Till then, poor stag, you're not secure."

It was but a little while before

The careful master oped the door.

"How's this, my boys?" said he;

"These empty racks will never do.

Go, change this dirty litter too.

More care than this I want to see

Of oxen that belong to me.

Well, Jim, my boy, you're young and stout;

What would it cost to clear these cobwebs out?

And put these yokes, and hames, and traces,

All as they should be, in their places?"

Thus looking round, he came to see

One head he did not usually.

The stag is found; his foes

Deal heavily their blows.

Down sinks he in the strife;

No tears can save his life.

They slay, and dress, and salt the beast,

And cook his flesh in many a feast,

And many a neighbour gets a taste.

As Phaedrus says it, pithily,

The master's is the eye to see:

I add the lover's, as for me.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 4, Fable 21



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