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The Wishes

(Recueil 2, Livre 7, Fable 7)

 

 

Within the Great Mogul's domains there are

Familiar sprites of much domestic use:

They sweep the house, and take a tidy care

Of equipage, nor garden work refuse;

But, if you meddle with their toil,

The whole, at once, you're sure to spoil.

One, near the mighty Ganges flood,

The garden of a burgher good

Worked noiselessly and well;

To master, mistress, garden, bore

A love that time and toil outwore,

And bound him like a spell.

Did friendly zephyrs blow,

The demon's pains to aid?

(For so they do, it's said.)

I own I do not know.

But for himself he rested not,

And richly blessed his master's lot.

What marked his strength of love,

He lived a fixture on the place,

In spite of tendency to rove

So natural to his race.

But brother sprites conspiring

With importunity untiring,

So teased their goblin chief, that he,

Of his caprice, or policy,

Our sprite commanded to attend

A house in Norway's farther end,

Whose roof was snow-clad through the year,

And sheltered human kind with deer.

Before departing to his hosts

Thus spake this best of busy ghosts:

"To foreign parts I'm forced to go!

For what sad fault I do not know;

But go I must; a month's delay,

Or week's perhaps, and I'm away.

Seize time; three wishes make at will;

For three I'm able to fulfil

No more." Quick at their easy task,

Abundance first these wishers ask

Abundance, with her stores unlocked

Barns, coffers, cellars, larder, stocked

Corn, cattle, wine, and money,

The overflow of milk and honey.

But what to do with all this wealth!

What inventories, cares, and worry!

What wear of temper and of health!

Both lived in constant, slavish hurry.

Thieves took by plot, and lords by loan;

The king by tax, the poor by tone.

Thus felt the curses which

Arise from being rich,

"Remove this affluence!" they pray;

The poor are happier than they

Whose riches make them slaves.

"Go, treasures, to the winds and waves;

Come, goddess of the quiet breast,

Who sweet'nest toil with rest,

Dear Mediocrity, return!"

The prayer was granted as we learn.

Two wishes thus expended,

Had simply ended

In bringing them exactly where,

When they set out they were.

So, usually, it fares

With those who waste in such vain prayers

The time required by their affairs.

The goblin laughed, and so did they.

However, before he went away,

To profit by his offer kind,

They asked for wisdom, wealth of mind,

A treasure void of care and sorrow

A treasure fearless of the morrow,

Let who will steal, or beg, or borrow.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 7, Fable 7

 

 

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