AGAINST THOSE WHO ARE HARD TO PLEASE. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

AGAINST THOSE WHO ARE HARD TO PLEASE. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

Had I when born, from fair Calliope
Received a gift such as she can bestow
Upon her lovers, it should pass from me
To Æsop, and that very soon, I know;
I′d consecrate it to his pleasant lies.
Falsehood and verse have ever been allies;
Far from Parnassus, held in small esteem,
I can do little to adorn his theme,
Or lend a fresher lustre to his song.
I try, that′s all—and plan what one more strong
May some day do—
And carry through.
Still, I have written, by-the-bye,
The wolf′s speech and the lamb′s reply.
What′s more, there′s many a plant and tree
Were taught to talk, and all by me.
Was that not my enchantment, eh?
"Tut! Tut!" our peevish critics say,
"Your mighty work all told, no more is
Than half-a-dozen baby stories.
Write something more authentic then,
And in a higher tone."—Well, list, my men!—
After ten years of war around their towers,
The Trojans held at bay the Grecian powers;
A thousand battles on Scamander′s plain,
Minings, assaults, how many a hero slain!
Yet the proud city stoutly held her own.
Till, by Minerva′s aid, a horse of wood,
Before the gates of the brave city stood.
Its flanks immense the sage Ulysses hold,
Brave Diomed, and Ajax, churlish, bold;
These, with their squadrons, will the vast machine
Bear into fated Troy, unheard, unseen—
The very gods will be their helpless prey.
Unheard-of stratagem; alas! the day,
That will the workmen their long toil repay.—
"Enough, enough!" our critics quickly cry,
"Pause and take breath; you′ll want it presently.
Your wooden horse is hard to swallow,
With foot and cavalry to follow.
Why this is stranger stuff, now, an′ you please,
Than Reynard cheating ravens of their cheese;
What′s more, this grand style does not suit you well,
That way you′ll never bear away the bell."
Well, then, we′ll lower the key, if such your will is.—
Pensive, alone, the jealous Amaryllis
Sighed for Alcippus—in her care,
She thinks her sheep and dog alone will share.
Tircis, perceiving her, slips all unseen
Behind the willows′ waving screen,
And hears the shepherdess the zephyrs pray,
To bear her words to lover far away.—
"I stop you at that rhyme,"
Cries out my watchful critic,
Of phrases analytic;
"It′s not legitimate; it cannot pass this time.
And then I need not show, of course,
The line wants energy and force;
It must be melted o′er again, I say."
You paltry meddler, prate no more,
I write my stories at my ease.
Easier to sit and plan a score,
Than such a one as you to please.

Fastidious men and overwise,
There′s nothing ever satisfies.

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