HomeJean de La FontaineThe Lion and the Gnat

THE LION AND THE GNAT. Jean de La Fontaine

The Lion and the Fly. Jean-Baptiste Oudry, 1732

The Lion and the Fly. Jean-Baptiste Oudry, 1732

"Go, paltry insect, refuse of the earth!"
Thus said the Lion to the Gnat one day.
The Gnat held the Beast King as little worth;
Immediate war declared—no joke, I say.
"Think you I care for Royal name?
I care no button for your fame;
An ox is stronger far than you,
Yet oxen often I pursue."
This said; in anger, fretful, fast,
He blew his loudest trumpet blast,
And charged upon the Royal Nero,
Himself a trumpet and a hero.
The time for vengeance came;
The Gnat was not to blame.
Upon the Lion′s neck he settled, glad
To make the Lion raving mad;
The monarch foams: his flashing eye
Rolls wild. Before his roaring fly
All lesser creatures; close they hide
To shun his cruelty and pride:
And all this terror at
The bite of one small Gnat,
Who changes every moment his attack,
First on the mouth, next on the back;
Then in the very caverns of the nose,
Gives no repose.
The foe invisible laughed out,
To see a Lion put to rout;
Yet clearly saw
That tooth nor claw
Could blood from such a pigmy draw.
The helpless Lion tore his hide,
And lashed with furious tail his side;
Lastly, quite worn, and almost spent,
Gave up his furious intent.
With glory crowned, the Gnat the battle-ground
Leaves, his victorious trump to sound,
As he had blown the battle charge before,
Still one blast for the conquest more.
He flies now here, now there,
To tell it everywhere.
Alas! it so fell out he met
A spider′s ambuscaded net,
And perished, eaten in mid-air.

What may we learn by this? why, two things, then:
First, that, of enemies, the smaller men
Should most be dreaded; also, secondly,
That passing through great dangers there may be
Still pitfalls waiting for us, though too small to see.

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