THE COMPANIONS OF ULYSSES. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

THE COMPANIONS OF ULYSSES. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

O Prince! to whom the immortals give
Their care, and power, and grace, permit:
My verse may on your shrine still live,
By burning there, though void of wit.
I know ′tis late; but let my muse
Plead years and duns for her excuse.
My soul is faint, and not like yours,
Which as an eagle proudly soars.
The hero from whose veins you drew
This brilliant soul, is e′en like you,
In martial fields; ′tis not his fault
His steps at victory′s archway halt:
Some god retains him; the same king
Who once the Rhine with victory′s wing
Swept over in one month, they say.
Then speed was right; but now, delay.
But I must pause. The Loves and Smiles
Detest the verse that runs to miles:
And of the Loves and Smiles your court
Is, all men know, the chief resort.
But other gods its precincts grace:
Good Sense and Reason there have place;
And I must beg that you will seek
Of these a story from the Greek,
Of certain men who, yielding up
Their souls to Folly′s poisoned cup,
From men to beasts were quickly changed,
And in brute forms the forest ranged.

After ten years of war and pain,
Ulysses′ comrades tempt the main;
Long tost about by every wind,
At length an island shore they find,
Where Circe, great Apollo′s child,
Held sway, and on the strangers smiled.
She gave them cups of drink delicious,
With poison sweet, with drugs pernicious.
Their reason first gave way; and then
They lost the forms and souls of men,
Ranging about in shapes of beast,
Some like the largest, some the least:—
The lion, elephant, and bear,
The wolf, and e′en the mole, were there.
Ulysses, he alone escaped,
Refusing Circe′s cups to drain;
And, as his form was finely shaped,
And god-like wisdom graced his mind,
The goddess sought his soul to gain,
By poisoned draughts of varied kind:
In fact, like any turtle-dove,
The goddess cooed, and told her love.
Ulysses was too circumspect,
Such coign of vantage to neglect,
And begged that all his comrades should
Resume their manhood′s natural mould.
"Yes," said the nymph, "it shall be so,
If they desire. You ask them, go."
Ulysses ran, and, calling round
His former comrades, said, "I′ve found
A method sure, by which again
You may resume the forms of men;
And, as a token that ′tis true,
This instant speech returns to you."
Then roared the Lion, "I′m no fool,
Your offer really is too cool.
What! throw away my claws and teeth,
With which I tear my foes to death?
No! Now I′m King.—In Grecian land
I should a private soldier stand.
You′re very kind, but let me rest;
I choose to be a regal beast."
Much with this rough-roared speech distressed,
Ulysses next the Bear addressed,
And said, "My brother, what a sight
Are you, who once were trim and slight!"
The Bear replied, in accents gruff,
"I′m like a bear—that′s quite enough;
Who shall decide, I′d like to know, sir,
That one form′s fine, another grosser?
Who made of man the judge of bears?
With fair dames now I′ve love affairs.
You do not like my shape? ′Tis well;

Pass on. Content and free I dwell
Within these woods, and flatly say,
I scorn mankind, and here shall stay."
The Prince the Wolf accosted then,
And, lest refusal came again,
Said, "Comrade, I′m in deep distress,
For there′s a lovely shepherdess
Who echo wearies out with cries
Against your wolfish gluttonies.
In former days your task had been
Her sheep from every wolf to screen:
You led an honest life. Oh, come,
And once more manhood′s form resume."
"No, no," replied the Wolf; "I′ll stay:
A ravenous wolf you call me. Pray,
If I the sheep had eaten not,
Would they have ′scaped your spit and pot?
If I were man, should I be less
A foe unto the shepherdess?
For just a word, or slight mistake,
You men each other′s heads will break;
And are you not, then, wolfish, too?
I′ve weighed the case, and hold it true
That wolves are better far than man:
I′ll be a Wolf, then, whilst I can."
To all, in turn, Ulysses went,
And used this selfsame argument.
But all, both great and small, refused
To be of beast-life disabused.
To range the woods, to feed and love,
To them seemed all things else above.
"Let others reap the praise," they cried,
"Of noble deeds: we′re satisfied."
And so, fast bound in Pleasure′s chains,
They thought that free they roamed the plains.

O Prince! I much had wished to choose
A tale which might teach and amuse.
The scheme itself was not so bad;
But where could such a tale be had?
I pondered long: at length the fate
Of Circe′s victims struck my pate.
Such victims in this world below
Were always, and are even now:
To punish them I will not strike,
But hold them up to your dislike.

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