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The Old Cat and the Young Mouse

(Recueil 3, Livre 12, Fable 5)



To Monseigneur, The Duke De Bourgogne; Who Had Requested Of M. De La Fontaine A Fable Which Should Be Called "The Cat And The Mouse."

To please a youthful prince, whom Fame

A temple in my writings vows,

What fable answers to the name,

"The Cat and Mouse?"

Shall I in verse the fair present,

With softest look but hard intent,

Who serves the hearts her charms entice

As does the cat its captive mice?

Or make my subject Fortune's sport?

She treats the friends that make her court,

And follow closest her advice,

As treats the cat the silly mice.

Shall I for theme a king select

Who sole, of all her favourites,

Commands the goddess's respect?

For whom she from her wheel alights.

Who, never stayed by foes a trice,

Whenever they block his way,

Can with the strongest play

As does the cat with mice!

Insensibly, while casting thus about,

Quite anxious for my subject's sake,

A theme I meet, and, if I don't mistake,

Shall spoil it, too, by spinning out.

The prince will treat my muse, for that,

As mice are treated by the cat.

A young and inexperienced mouse

Had faith to try a veteran cat,

Raminagrobis, death to rat,

And scourge of vermin through the house,

Appealing to his clemency

With reasons sound and fair.

"Pray let me live; a mouse like me

It were not much to spare.

Am I, in such a family,

A burden? Would my largest wish

Our wealthy host impoverish?

A grain of wheat will make my meal;

A nut will fat me like a seal.

I'm lean at present; please to wait,

And for your heirs reserve my fate."

The captive mouse thus spake.

Replied the captor, "You mistake;

To me shall such a thing be said?

Address the deaf! address the dead!

A cat to pardon! old one too!

Why, such a thing I never knew.

You victim of my paw,

By well-established law,

Die as a mousling should,

And beg the sisterhood

Who ply the thread and shears,

To lend your speech their ears.

Some other like repast

My heirs may find, or fast."

He ceased. The moral's plain.

Youth always hopes its ends to gain,

Believes all spirits like its own:

Old age is not to mercy prone.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 12, Fable 5



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