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The Head and the Tail of the Serpent

(Recueil 2, Livre 7, Fable 18)



Two parts the serpent has

Of men the enemies

The head and tail: the same

Have won a mighty fame,

Next to the cruel Fates;

So that, indeed, hence

They once had great debates

About precedence.

The first had always gone ahead;

The tail had been for ever led;

And now to Heaven it prayed,

And said,

"O, many and many a league,

Dragged on in sore fatigue,

Behind his back I go.

Shall he for ever use me so?

Am I his humble servant;

No. Thanks to God most fervent!

His brother I was born,

And not his slave forlorn.

The self-same blood in both,

I'm just as good as he:

A poison dwells in me

As virulent as does

In him. In mercy, heed,

And grant me this decree,

That I, in turn, may lead

My brother, follow me.

My course shall be so wise,

That no complaint shall rise."

With cruel kindness Heaven granted

The very thing he blindly wanted:

To such desires of beasts and men,

Though often deaf, it was not then.

At once this novel guide,

That saw no more in broad daylight

Than in the murk of darkest night,

His powers of leading tried,

Struck trees, and men, and stones, and bricks,

And led his brother straight to Styx.

And to the same unlovely home,

Some states by such an error come.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 7, Fable 18



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