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The Power Of Fables

(Recueil 2, Livre 8, Fable 4)



Can diplomatic dignity

To simple fables condescend?

Can I your famed benignity

Invoke, my muse an ear to lend?

If once she dares a high intent,

Will you esteem her impudent?

Your cares are weightier, indeed,

Than listening to the sage debates

Of rabbit or of weasel states:

So, as it pleases, burn or read;

But save us from the woful harms

Of Europe roused in hostile arms.

That from a thousand other places

Our enemies should show their faces,

May well be granted with a smile,

But not that England's Isle

Our friendly kings should set

Their fatal blades to whet.

Comes not the time for Louis to repose?

What Hercules, against these hydra foes,

Would not grow weary? Must new heads oppose

His ever-waxing energy of blows?

Now, if your gentle, soul persuasive powers,

As sweet as mighty in this world of ours,

Can soften hearts, and lull this war to sleep,

I'll pile your altars with a hundred sheep;

And this is not a small affair

For a Parnassian mountaineer.

Meantime, (if you have time to spare,)

Accept a little incense cheer.

A homely, but an ardent prayer,

And tale in verse, I give you here.

I'll only say, the theme is fit for you.

With praise, which envy must confess

To worth like yours is justly due,

No man on earth needs propping less.

In Athens, once, that city fickle,

An orator, awake to feel

His country in a dangerous pickle,

Would sway the proud republic's heart,

Discoursing of the common weal,

As taught by his tyrannic art.

The people listened—not a word.

Meanwhile the orator recurred

To bolder tropes enough to rouse

The dullest blocks that ever did drowse;

He clothed in life the very dead,

And thundered all that could be said.

The wind received his breath,

As to the ear of death.

That beast of many heads and light,

The crowd, accustomed to the sound

Was all intent on a sight

A brace of lads in mimic fight.

A new resource the speaker found.

"Ceres," in lower tone said he,

"Went forth her harvest fields to see:

An eel, as such a fish might he,

And swallow, were her company.

A river checked the travellers three.

Two crossed it soon without ado;

The smooth eel swam, the swallow flew."

Outcried the crowd

With voices loud

"And Ceres what did she?"

"Why, what she pleased; but first

Yourselves she justly cursed

A people puzzling aye your brains

With children's tales and children's play,

While Greece puts on her steel array,

To save her limbs from, tyrant chains!

Why ask you not what Philip does?"

At this reproach the idle buzz

Fell to the silence of the grave,

Or moonstruck sea without a wave,

And every eye and ear awoke

To drink the words the patriot spoke.

This feather stick in Fable's cap.

We're all Athenians, mayhap;

And I, for one, confess the sin;

For, while I write this moral here,

If one should tell that tale so queer

Ycleped, I think, "The Ass's Skin,"

I should not mind my work a pin.

The world is old, they say; I don't deny it;

But, infant still

In taste and will,

Whoever would teach, must gratify it.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 8, Fable 4



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