THE MOUSE METAMORPHOSED INTO A GIRL. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

THE MOUSE METAMORPHOSED INTO A GIRL. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

A Mouse from the beak of an owl fell down,
A Brahmin lifted it up, half dead:
Tenderly nursed it, and tamed it, and fed.
I could not have done such an act, I own;
But every land has its own conceit:
With a Mouse I′d rather not sit at meat.
But Brahmins regard a flea as a friend,
For they think that the soul of a king may descend
To some beast, or insect, or dog, or mite,—
Pythagoras taught them this law erudite.
Thus believing, the Brahmin a sorcerer prayed
That the Mouse might resume some more elegant dress.
The wise man consented, and, truth to confess,
Performed his task well, for the Mouse became Maid,—
Ah! a Maid of fifteen—such an elegant creature,
Of a form so genteel, of such exquisite feature,
That if Paris had met her, that amorous boy
Would have risked, to possess her, full many a Troy.
Surprised at the sight of a being so fair,
The Brahmin said, "Darling, you′ve but to declare
Whom you′ll have for a husband, for none will refuse
Such a beautiful bride;—you have only to choose."
Then the Maiden replied, "I confess that I long
For a husband that′s valiant, and noble, and strong."
Then the Brahmin knelt down, and addressing the Sun,
Cried, "Noblest of living things, you are the one!"
But the Lord of the Daylight replied, "′Tis not true
That I am so strong; for the Cloud you see yonder,
Piled high with the rain, and the hail, and the thunder,
Could hide me at once, if he chose, from your view."
To the Cloud, then, appealing, the Brahmin declared
That with him, Lord of Storms, his child′s fate should
be shared.
"No, No!" said the dark Cloud; "it never can be,
For at each breath of wind I am driven to flee.
If you′d have for a son-in-law somebody strong,
Your Maid to the North Wind should fairly belong."
Disgusted with constant refusals like these,
The Brahmin appealed to the wild, roving Breeze;
And the Breeze was quite willing to wed the fair Maid,
But a Mountain Top huge his love′s pilgrimage stayed.
The ball, at this game of "a lover to find,"
Now passed to the Hill, but he quickly declined;
"For," said he, "with the Rat I′m not friends, and, I know,
If I took the fair Maid, he would gnaw at me so."
At the mention of Rat, the fair Maiden, with glee,
Cried, "′Tis Rat, and Rat only, my husband shall be!"
See a Girl for a Rat now Apollo forsaking!
It was one of those strokes which Love glories in making.
And, ′twixt you and me, such strange instances are,
′Mongst girls that we know of, more frequent than rare.

With men and with beasts it is ever the same:
They still show the trace of the place whence they came;
And this fable may aid us to prove it; but yet,
On a nearer inspection, some sophistry′s met
In its traits; for, to trust to this fanciful story,
Any spouse were more good than the Sun in his glory.

But, what! shall I say that a giant is less
Than a flea, because fleas can a giant distress?
The Rat, if this rule must be strictly obeyed,
Of his wife to the Cat would a present have made:
And the Cat to the Dog, and the Dog to the Bear;
Till, at length, by a sort of a high-winding stair,
The story had brought us where first ′twas begun,
And the beautiful Maid would have married the Sun.

But let us return to the Metempsychosis
The truth of which, firstly, this fable supposes.
It seems to me plain that the fable itself
The system decidedly puts on the shelf.
According to Brahmin law, animals all
That inhabit the earth, be they mighty or small,—
Be they men, mice, or wolves, or e′en creatures more coarse,—
Their souls have derived from one general source;
And vary, in physical actions, just so
As the form of their organs may force them to do.
And if this be the case, then, how came it that one
Of so fine-formed a frame did not wed with the Sun?
Whereas, as we know, to a Rat she devoted
The charms on which many a king would have doated.

All things considered, I′ll declare
That girl and mouse souls different are.
We must our destiny fulfil,
As ordered by the sovereign will.
Appeal to magic,—it is all in vain;
The soul, once born, will still the same remain.

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