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The Quarrel of the Dogs And Cats, And That of the Cats And Mice

(Recueil 3, Livre 12, Fable 8)



Enthroned by an eternal law,

Has Discord reigned throughout the universe.

In proof, I might from this our planet draw

A thousand instances diverse.

Within the circle of our view,

This queen has subjects not a few.

Beginning with the elements,

It is astonishing to see

How they have stood, to all intents,

As wrestlers from eternity.

Besides these four great potentates,

Old stubborn earth, fire, flood, and air,

How many other smaller states

Are waging everlasting war!

In mansion decked with frieze and column,

Dwelt dogs and cats in multitudes;

Decrees, promulged in manner solemn,

Had pacified their ancient feuds.

Their lord had so arranged their meals and labours,

And threatened quarrels with the whip,

That, living in sweet cousinship,

They edified their wondering neighbours.

At last, some dainty plate to lick,

Or profitable bone to pick,

Bestowed by some partiality,

Broke up the smooth equality.

The side neglected were indignant

At such a slight malignant.

Some writers make the whole dispute begin

With favours to a bitch while lying in.

Whatever the cause, the altercation

Soon grew a perfect conflagration.

In hall and kitchen, dog and cat

Took sides with zeal for this or that.

New rules on the cat side falling

Produced tremendous caterwauling.

Their advocate, against such rules as these,

Advised recurrence to the old decrees.

They searched in vain, for, hidden in a nook,

The thievish mice had eaten up the book.

Another quarrel, in a trice,

Made many sufferers with the mice;

For many a veteran whiskered-face,

With craft and cunning richly stored,

And grudges old against the race,

Now watched to put them to the sword;

Nor mourned for this that mansion's lord.

Resuming our discourse, we see

No creature from opponents free.

It's nature's law for earth and sky;

it were vain to ask the reason why;

God's works are good, I cannot doubt it,

And that is all I know about it.

I know, however, that the cause

Which has our human quarrels brought,

Three quarters of the time, is nothing

That will be, is, or ever was.

You veterans, in state and church,

At threescore years, indeed,

It seems there still is need

To give you lessons with the birch!

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 12, Fable 8



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