(Recueil 1, Livre 2, Fable 1)
Were I a pet of fair Calliope,
I would devote the gifts conferred on me
To dress in verse old Aesop's lies divine;
For verse, and they, and truth, do well combine;
But, not a favourite on the Muses' hill,
I dare not arrogate the magic skill,
To ornament these charming stories.
A bard might brighten up their glories,
No doubt. I try, what one more wise must do.
Thus much I have accomplished hitherto:
By help of my translation,
The beasts hold conversation,
In French, as never they did before.
Indeed, to claim a little more,
The plants and trees, with smiling features,
Are turned by me to talking creatures.
Who says, that this is not enchanting?
"Ah," says the critics, "hear what vaunting!
From one whose work, all told, no more is
Than half-a-dozen baby stories.
Would you a theme more credible, my censors,
In graver tone, and style which now and then soars?
Then list! For ten long years the men of Troy,
By means that only heroes can employ,
Had held the allied hosts of Greece at bay,
Their minings, batterings, stormings day by day,
Their hundred battles on the crimson plain,
Their blood of thousand heroes, all in vain,
When, by Minerva's art, a horse of wood,
Of lofty size before their city stood,
Whose flanks immense the sage Ulysses hold,
Brave Diomed, and Ajax fierce and bold,
Whom, with their myrmidons, the huge machine
Would bear within the fated town unseen,
To wreak on its very gods their rage
Unheard-of stratagem, in any age.
Which well its crafty authors did repay...
"Enough, enough," our critic folks will say;
"Your period excites alarm,
Lest you should do your lungs some harm;
And then your monstrous wooden horse,
With squadrons in it at their ease,
Is even harder to endorse
Than Renard cheating Raven of his cheese.
And, more than that, it fits you ill
To wield the old heroic quill."
Well, then, a humbler tone, if such your will is:
Long sighed and pined the jealous Amaryllis
For her Alcippus, in the sad belief,
None, save her sheep and dog, would know her grief.
Thyrsis, who knows, among the willows slips,
And hears the gentle shepherdess's lips
Beseech the kind and gentle zephyr
To bear these accents to her lover...
"Stop!" says my censor:
"To laws of rhyme quite irreducible,
That couplet needs again the crucible;
Poetic men, sir,
Must nicely shun the shocks
Of rhymes unorthodox."
A curse on critics! hold your tongue!
Know I not how to end my song?
Of time and strength what greater waste
Than my attempt to suit your taste?
Some men, more nice than wise,
There's nothing that satisfies.
Jean de La Fontaine
Book 2, Fable 1