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The Battle of the Rats and the Weasels

(Recueil 1, Livre 4, Fable 6)

 

 

The weasels live, no more than cats,

On terms of friendship with the rats;

And, were it not that these

Through doors contrive to squeeze

Too narrow for their foes,

The animals long-snouted

Would long ago have routed,

And from the planet scouted

Their race, as I suppose.

One year it did betide,

When they were multiplied,

An army took the field

Of rats, with spear and shield,

Whose crowded ranks led on

A king named Ratapon.

The weasels, too, their banner

Unfurled in warlike manner.

As Fame her trumpet sounds,

The victory balanced well;

Enriched were fallow grounds

Where slaughtered legions fell;

But by said trollop's tattle,

The loss of life in battle

Thinned most the rattish race

In almost every place;

And finally their rout

Was total, spite of stout

Artarpax and Psicarpax,

And valiant Meridarpax,

Who, covered over with dust,

Long time sustained their host

Down sinking on the plain.

Their efforts were in vain;

Fate ruled that final hour,

(Inexorable power!)

And so the captains fled

As well as those they led;

The princes perished all.

The undistinguished small

In certain holes found shelter,

In crowding, helter skelter;

But the nobility

Could not go in so free,

Who proudly had assumed

Each one a helmet plumed;

We know not, truly, whether

For honour's sake the feather,

Or foes to strike with terror;

But, truly, It was their error.

Nor hole, nor crack, nor crevice

Will let their head gear in;

While meaner rats in bevies

An easy passage win;

So that the shafts of fate

Do chiefly hit the great.

A feather in the cap

Is often a great mishap.

An equipage too grand

Comes often to a stand

Within a narrow place.

The small, whatever the case,

With ease slip through a strait,

Where larger folks must wait.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 4, Fable 6

 

 

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