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The Fishes and the Cormorant

(Recueil 2, Livre 10, Fable 3)



No pond nor pool within his haunt

But paid a certain cormorant

Its contribution from its fishes,

And stocked his kitchen with good dishes.

Yet, when old age the bird had chilled,

His kitchen was less amply filled.

All cormorants, however grey,

Must die, or for themselves purvey.

But ours had now become so blind,

His finny prey he could not find;

And, having neither hook nor net,

His appetite was poorly met.

What hope, with famine thus infested?

Necessity, whom history mentions,

A famous mother of inventions,

The following stratagem suggested:

He found on the water's brink

A crab, to which said he, "My friend,

A weighty errand let me send:

Go quicker than a wink

Down to the fishes sink,

And tell them they are doomed to die;

For, before eight days have hastened by,

Its lord will fish this water dry."

The crab, as fast as she could scrabble,

Went down, and told the scaly rabble.

What bustling, gathering, agitation!

Straight up they send a deputation

To wait on the ancient bird.

"Sir Cormorant, whence have you heard

This dreadful news? And what

Assurance of it have you got?

How such a danger can we shun?

Pray tell us, what is to be done?

"Why, change your dwelling place," said he,

"What, change our dwelling! How can we?"

"O, by your leave, I'll take that care,

And, one by one, in safety bear

You all to my retreat:

The path's unknown

To any feet,

Except my own.

A pool, scooped out by Nature's hands,

Amidst the desert rocks and sands,

Where human traitors never come,

Shall save your people from their doom."

The fish republic swallowed all,

And, coming at the fellow's call,

Were singly borne away to stock

A pond beneath a lonely rock;

And there good prophet cormorant,

Proprietor and bailiff sole,

From narrow water, clear and shoal,

With ease supplied his daily want,

And taught them, at their own expense,

That heads well stored with common sense

Give no devourers confidence.

Still did the change not hurt their case,

Since, had they staid, the human race,

Successful by pernicious art,

Would have consumed as large a part.

What matters who your flesh devours,

Of human or of bestial powers?

In this respect, or wild or tame,

All stomachs seem to me the same:

The odds is small, in point of sorrow,

Of death today, or death tomorrow.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 10, Fable 3



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