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THE HOROSCOPE. Jean de La Fontaine

THE HOROSCOPE. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

THE HOROSCOPE. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

A Man will sometimes meet his destiny
The moment that he turns ill-luck to flee.
A father had an only son, and dear
He held him; so, as love is kin to fear,
He with astrologers held a debate
About the stars that ruled the infant′s fate.
One of these people said the father′s care
Should of all lions specially beware.
Till he was twenty, he should keep him in,
And, after that, his safety would begin.
The cautious father, resolute to save
His offspring from the ever-yawning grave,
Knowing the danger turned on one neglect,
Guarded him carefully, in this respect;—
Forbad him exit; barred up every door;
But other pleasures lavished more and more.
With his companions, all the live-long day,
He was allowed to walk, and run, and play.
When he had reached the age that loves the chase,
A closer ward they kept upon the place.
They talked with scorn of all the huntsman′s joys,
Spoke of the dangers—mocked the trumpet′s noise.
But all in vain were sermons, though well meant;
Nothing can change the force of temperament.
The youth was restless, fiery, hot, and brave;
The stormy impulses came, wave on wave.
He sighed for pleasure;—more the obstacle,
The more desire; in vain they try to quell:
He knew the cause of all his misery.
The spacious house, so rich with luxury,
Was full of pictures, and of tapestry,—
The subjects hunting scenes, and forest glades:
Here animals, there men, strong lights, dark shades,—
The weaver made the lion chief of all:
"Out, monster!" cried the youth, and eyed the wall
With foaming rage: "′tis you that keep me here,
In gloom and fetters. Is it you I fear?"
He spoke, and struck, with all a madman′s might,
The beast so innocent. There, out of sight,
Under the hanging, a sharp nail was stuck:
It pricked him deeply, by the worst of luck.
The arts of Æsculapius were in vain:
He joined the shadows that own Pluto′s reign.
His death was due to his fond sire′s regard,
That in the locked-up palace kept him barred.
It was precaution, too, that whilom slew
The poet Æschylus, if they say true.
It had been prophesied a house should fall
Upon his head, so he shunned tower and wall,
The city left, and camped out on the plain.
Far from all roofs and danger, he was slain:
An eagle, with a tortoise in his grip, flew by;
The poet′s bald head, from the upper sky,
Looked like a smooth boulder; the bird let drop
The prey he wished to crush upon the top.
So perished Æschylus. From hence, we see,
The art, if true, led to the misery
That they would shun, all who in it had trust;
But I maintain it′s false, and quite unjust.
I′ll ne′er believe that Nature ties our hands,
Or would submit herself to such vile bands,
As in the skies to write our future fate;
Times, persons, places, have far greater weight
Than the conjunctions of a charlatan,
Under the self-same planet, tell the man.
Are kings and shepherds born, though one may sway
With golden sceptre, and the other play
With ashen crook? "The will of Jupiter,"—
A star has not a soul, my worthy sir;
Why should its influence affect these two
So diversely? How can it pierce through
That sea of air,—those cloudy gulfs profound,
Mars and the Sun, and pass each fiery bound?
An atom would disturb it on its path.
Horoscope-mongers, let me rouse your wrath:
The state of Europe,—who predicted that?
Did you foresee it?—now, then, answer pat.
Think of each planet′s distance, and its speed;
These sage′s passions, it is well agreed,
Prevent their judging of our actions right.
On them our fate depends: a planet′s course
Goes like our minds, with a still-varying force.
And yet these fools, with compass and with line,
Of men′s whole lives would map out a design!
But do not let the tales that I repeat
Weigh in the balance more than it is meet.
The fate of boy and Æschylus came true,
Blind and deceitful though the art be, too.
Once in a thousand times the bull′s eye′s hit;
That is the good luck of your juggling wit.

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