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The Rat and the Oyster

(Recueil 2, Livre 8, Fable 9)



A country rat, of little brains,

Grown weary of inglorious rest,

Left home with all its straws and grains,

Resolved to know beyond his nest.

When peeping through the nearest fence,

"How big the world is, how immense!"

He cried; "there rise the Alps, and that

Is doubtless famous Ararat."

His mountains were the works of moles,

Or dirt thrown up in digging holes!

Some days of travel brought him where

The tide had left the oysters bare.

Since here our traveller saw the sea,

He thought these shells the ships must be.

"My father was, in truth," said he,

"A coward, and an ignoramus;

He dared not travel: as for me,

I have seen the ships and ocean famous;

Have crossed the deserts without drinking,

And many dangerous streams unshrinking;

Such things I know from having seen and felt them."

And, as he went, in tales he proudly dealt them,

Not being of those rats whose knowledge

Comes by their teeth on books in college.

Among the shut-up shell-fish, one

Was gaping widely at the sun;

It breathed, and drank the air's perfume,

Expanding, like a flower in bloom.

Both white and fat, its meat

Appeared a dainty treat.

Our rat, when he this shell espied,

Thought for his stomach to provide.

"If not mistaken in the matter,"

Said he, "no meat was ever fatter,

Or in its flavour half so fine,

As that on which today I dine."

Thus full of hope, the foolish chap

Thrust in his head to taste,

And felt the pinching of a trap

The oyster closed in haste.

We're first instructed, by this case,

That those to whom the world is new

Are wonder struck at every view;

And, in the second place,

That the marauder finds his match,

And he is caught who thinks to catch.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 8, Fable 9



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