A SCYTHIAN PHILOSOPHER. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

A SCYTHIAN PHILOSOPHER. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

A Philosopher once, who, in Scythia born,
Had somewhat, with study, his brain-pan outworn,
Made his mind up, for pleasure and profit, to seek
Repose for a time in the land of the Greek;
And there he made friends with a man of the kind
Whom Virgil so well in the Georgics defined:
A man who′s a king, for himself he controls,
And a god, for he blends his own will with men′s souls.
He found him with pruning-knife grasped in his hand,
Pruning here, snipping there, in all parts of his land,
As tranquil as Jove; here he cut off a twig,
There lopped off a branch to make others more big;
For Nature, experience had taught him, is prone
To waste in rash gifts all the wealth of her throne.
The Scythian, brought up in town, was downcast,
And looked at the ruinous waste quite aghast,
And exclaimed, "My dear friend, lay your pruning
hook down,
And let Nature, judicious, take care of her own;
For, at best, you are taking much pains to deflower
The fruits which Time′s tooth will but too soon devour."
The old man replied, with a rustical grace,
"I cut useless ones off to give useful ones space."
Struck by wisdom like this, with no moments delay,
The Scythian homewards at once took his way;
And no sooner had got there but took up a bill,
And at cutting and hewing showed wonderful skill:
Hewed branches, snipped twigs, and persuaded his
To share in his rude horticultural labours.
The result is soon told: hacking trees without reason,
In summer or spring—taking no thought of season—
Must lead to results which no words can belie;
For the trees thus instructed instinctively die.
Now, the Scythian stands for a symbol of those
Who wish all the pathways of pleasure to close;
Who′d hoot at ambition, forbid a new dress,
And from lexicons banish the sweet word, caress.
For myself, though by custom not given to swearing,
I′ll say that, by Jove, such old dolts there′s no bearing;
They wish us to choke whilst we′ve plenty of breath,
And whilst full of life′s vigour to simulate death.

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