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The Tortoise and the Two Ducks

(Recueil 2, Livre 10, Fable 2)



A light brained tortoise, anciently,

Tired of her hole, the world would see.

Prone are all such, self-banished, to roam

Prone are all cripples to abhor their home.

Two ducks, to whom the gossip told

The secret of her purpose bold,

Professed to have the means whereby

They could her wishes gratify.

"Our boundless road," said they, "behold!

It is the open air;

And through it we will bear

You safe over land and ocean.

Republics, kingdoms, you will view,

And famous cities, old and new;

And get of customs, laws, a notion,

Of various wisdom various pieces,

As did, indeed, the sage Ulysses."

The eager tortoise waited not

To question what Ulysses got,

But closed the bargain on the spot.

A nice machine the birds devise

To bear their pilgrim through the skies.

Athwart her mouth a stick they throw:

"Now bite it hard, and don't let go,"

They say, and seize each duck an end,

And, swiftly flying, upward tend.

It made the people gape and stare

Beyond the expressive power of words,

To see a tortoise cut the air,

Exactly poised between two birds.

"A miracle," they cried, "is seen!

There goes the flying tortoise queen!"

"The queen!" ('twas thus the tortoise spoke;)

"I'm truly that, without a joke."

Much better had she held her tongue

For, opening that whereby she clung,

Before the gazing crowd she fell,

And dashed to bits her brittle shell.

Imprudence, vanity, and babble,

And idle curiosity,

An ever undivided rabble,

Have all the same paternity.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 10, Fable 2



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