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The Serpent and the File

(Recueil 1, Livre 5, Fable 16)



A serpent, neighbour to a smith,

(A neighbour bad to meddle with,)

Went through his shop, in search of food,

But nothing found, it's understood,

To eat, except a file of steel,

Of which he tried to make a meal.

The file, without a spark of passion,

Addressed him in the following fashion:

"Poor simpleton! you surely bite

With less of sense than appetite;

For before from me you gain

One quarter of a grain,

You'll break your teeth from ear to ear.

Time's are the only teeth I fear."

This tale concerns those men of letters,

Who, good for nothing, bite their betters.

Their biting so is quite unwise.

Think you, you literary sharks,

Your teeth will leave their marks

On the deathless works you criticise?

Fie! fie! fie! men!

To you they're brass—they're steel—they're diamond!

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 5, Fable 16



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