THE ANIMALS SICK OF THE PLAGUE. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

THE ANIMALS SICK OF THE PLAGUE. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

A Malady that Heaven sent
On earth, for our sin′s punishment—
The Plague (if I must call it right),
Fit to fill Hades in a night—
Upon the animals made war;
Not all die, but all stricken are.
They scarcely care to seek for food,
For they are dying, and their brood.
The Wolves and Foxes crouching keep,
Nor care to watch for timorous Sheep.
Even the very Turtle-doves
Forget their little harmless loves.
The Lion, calling counsel, spoke—
"Dear friends, upon our luckless crown
Heaven misfortune has sent down,
For some great sin. Let, then, the worst
Of all our race be taken first,
And sacrificed to Heaven′s ire;
So healing Mercury, through the fire,
May come and free us from this curse,
That′s daily growing worse and worse.
History tells us, in such cases
For patriotism there a place is.
No self-deception;—plain and flat
Search each his conscience, mind you that.
I′ve eaten several sheep, I own.
What harm had they done me?—why, none.
Sometimes—to be quite fair and true—
I′ve eaten up the shepherd too.
I will devote myself; but, first,
Let′s hear if any has done worst.
Each must accuse himself, as I
Have done; for justice would let die
The guiltiest one." The Fox replied—
"You are too good to thus decide.

Your Majesty′s kind scruples show
Too much of delicacy. No
What! eating sheep—the paltry—base,
Is that a sin? You did the race,
In munching them, an honour—yes,
I′m free, your highness, to confess.
And as for shepherds, they earn all
The evils that upon them fall:
Being of those who claim a sway
(Fantastic claim!) o′er us, they say."
Thus spoke the Fox the flatterer′s text.
The Tiger and the Bear came next,
With claims that no one thought perplexed.
In fact, more quarrelsome they were,
The fewer grew the cavillers there.
Even the humblest proved a saint:
None made a slanderous complaint.
The Ass came in his turn, and said,
"For one thing I myself upbraid.
Once, in a rank green abbey field,
Sharp hunger made me basely yield.
The opportunity was there;
The grass was rich; the day was fair.
Some demon tempted me: I fell,
And cleared my bare tongue′s length, pell-mell."
Scarce had he spoken ere they rose
In arms, nor waited for the close.
A Wolf, half lawyer, made a speech,
And proved this creature wrong′d them each
And all, and they must sacrifice
This scurvy wretch, who to his eyes
Was steep′d in every wickedness.
Doom′d to the rope, without redress,
"Hang him at once! What! go and eat
An Abbot′s grass, however sweet!
Abominable crime!" they cry;
"Death only clears the infamy."

If you are powerful, wrong or right,
The court will change your black to white.

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