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The Old Man And His Sons

(Recueil 1, Livre 4, Fable 18)

 

 

All power is feeble with dissension:

For this I quote the Phrygian slave.

If anything I add to his invention,

It is our manners to engrave,

And not from any envious wishes;

I'm not so foolishly ambitious.

Phaedrus enriches often his story,

In quest I doubt it not of glory:

Such thoughts were idle in my breast.

An aged man, near going to his rest,

His gathered sons thus solemnly addressed:

"To break this bunch of arrows you may try;

And, first, the string that binds them I untie."

The eldest, having tried with might and main,

Exclaimed, "This bundle I resign

To muscles sturdier than mine."

The second tried, and bowed himself in vain.

The youngest took them with the like success.

All were obliged their weakness to confess.

Unharmed the arrows passed from son to son;

Of all they did not break a single one.

"Weak fellows!" said their sire, "I now must show

What in the case my feeble strength can do."

They laughed, and thought their father but in joke,

Till, one by one, they saw the arrows broke.

"See, concord's power!" replied the sire; "as long

As you in love agree, you will be strong.

I go, my sons, to join our fathers good;

Now promise me to live as brothers should,

And soothe by this your dying father's fears."

Each strictly promised with a flood of tears.

Their father took them by the hand, and died;

And soon the virtue of their vows was tried.

Their sire had left a large estate

Involved in lawsuits intricate;

Here seized a creditor, and there

A neighbour levied for a share.

At first the trio nobly bore

The brunt of all this legal war.

But short their friendship as It was rare.

Whom blood had joined and small the wonder!

The force of interest drove asunder;

And, as is wont in such affairs,

Ambition, envy, were co-heirs.

In parcelling their sire's estate,

They quarrel, quibble, litigate,

Each aiming to supplant the other.

The judge, by turns, condemns each brother.

Their creditors make new assault,

Some pleading error, some default.

The sundered brothers disagree;

For counsel one, have counsels three.

All lose their wealth; and now their sorrows

Bring fresh to mind those broken arrows.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 4, Fable 18

 

 

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