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The Peasant of the Danube

(Recueil 2, Livre 11, Fable 7)

 

 

To judge no man by outside view,

Is good advice, though not quite new.

Some time ago a mouse's fright

On this moral shed some light.

I have for proof at present,

With, Aesop and good Socrates,

Of Danube's banks a certain peasant,

Whose portrait drawn to life, one sees,

By Marc Aurelius, if you please.

The first are well known, far and near:

I briefly sketch the other here.

The crop on his fertile chin

Was anything but soft or thin;

Indeed, his person, clothed in hair,

Might personate an unlicked bear.

Beneath his matted brow there lay

An eye that squinted every way;

A crooked nose and monstrous lips he bore,

And goat skin round his trunk he wore,

With bulrush belt. And such a man as this is

Was delegate from towns the Danube kisses,

When not a nook on earth there lingered

By Roman avarice not fingered.

Before the senate thus he spoke:

"Romans and senators who hear,

I, first of all, the gods invoke,

The powers whom mortals justly fear,

That from my tongue there may not fall

A word which I may need recall.

Without their aid there enters nothing

To human hearts of good or just:

Whoever leaves the same unsought,

Is prone to violate his trust;

The prey of Roman avarice,

Ourselves are witnesses of this.

Rome, by our crimes, our scourge has grown,

More than by valour of her own.

Romans, beware lest Heaven, some day,

Exact for all our groans the pay,

And, arming us, by just reverse,

To do its vengeance, stern, but meet,

Shall pour on you the vassal's curse,

And place your necks beneath our feet!

And why not? For are you better

Than hundreds of the tribes diverse

Who clank the galling Roman fetter?

What right gives you the universe?

Why come and mar our quiet life?

We tilled our acres free from strife;

In arts our hands were skilled to toil,

As well as over the generous soil.

What have you taught the Germans brave?

Apt scholars, had but they

Your appetite for sway,

They might, instead of you, enslave,

Without your inhumanity.

That which your praetors perpetrate

On us, as subjects of your state,

My powers would fail me to relate.

Profaned their altars and their rites,

The pity of your gods our lot excites.

Thanks to your representatives,

In you they see but shameless thieves,

Who plunder gods as well as men.

By sateless avarice insane,

The men that rule our land from this

Are like the bottomless abyss.

To satisfy their lust of gain,

Both man and nature toil in vain.

Recall them; for indeed we will

Our fields for such no longer till.

From all our towns and plains we fly

For refuge to our mountains high.

We quit our homes and tender wives,

To lead with savage beasts our lives

No more to welcome into day

A progeny for Rome a prey.

And as to those already born

Poor helpless babes forlorn!

We wish them short career in time:

Your praetors force us to the crime.

Are they our teachers? Call them home,

They teach but luxury and vice,

Lest Germans should their likes become,

In fell remorseless avarice.

Have we a remedy at Rome?

I'll tell you here how matters go.

Has one no present to bestow,

No purple for a judge or so,

The laws for him are deaf and dumb;

Their minister has aye in store

A thousand hindrances or more.

I'm sensible that truths like these

Are not the things to please.

I have done. Let death avenge you here

Of my complaint, a little too sincere."

He said no more; but all admired

The thought with which his speech was fired;

The eloquence and heart of oak

With which the prostrate savage spoke.

Indeed, so much were all delighted,

As due revenge, the man was knighted.

The praetors were at once displaced,

And better men the office graced.

The senate, also, by decree,

Besought a copy of the speech,

Which might to future speakers be

A model for the use of each.

Not long, however, had Rome the sense

To entertain such eloquence.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 11, Fable 7

 

 

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