THE OLD MAN AND HIS CHILDREN. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

THE OLD MAN AND HIS CHILDREN. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

All power is feeble, if it′s disunited:
Upon this head now hear the Phrygian slave.
If I add verse to his, which has delighted,
It′s not from envy; but in hopes to grave
And paint our modern manners—feeble-sighted—
Had I ambition for mere foolish aims.
Phædrus, in eager search for glory,
Enriched full many an ancient story;
Ill-fitting me were such pretentious claims.
But let us to our fable—rather history,
Of him who tried to make his sons agree.
An Old Man, when Death called, prepared to go—-
"My children dear," he said, "try now to break
This knotted sheaf of arrows. I will show
The way they′re tied—what progress can you make?"
The eldest, having done his very best,
Exclaimed, "I yield them to a stronger one."
The second strove across his knee and chest,
Then passed them quickly to the younger son:
They lost their time, the bundle was too strong,
The shafts together none could snap or bend.
"Weak creatures!" said their sire, "pass them along;
My single arm the riddle soon will end."
They laughed, and thought him joking; but not so,
Singly the arrows quickly fell in twain;
"Thus may you concord′s power, my children, know;
Agree in love and never part again."
He spoke no more, he felt his life was done;
And then, perceiving death was very near,
"Dear sons," said he, "I go where all have gone;
Promise to live like brothers; let me hear
Your joint vow—now, grant your father this:"
Then, weeping, each one gives the parting kiss.
He joins their hands and dies; a large estate
He left, but tangled up with heavy debts.
This creditor seized land still in debate;
That neighbour brought an action for assets:
The brothers′ love was short, you well may guess;
Blood joined and interest severed the brief tie;
Ambition, envy, led to base finesse
The subdivision bred chicanery.
The judge by turns condemns them all,
Neighbours and creditors assail;
To loggerheads the plighted brothers fall.
The union′s sundered—one agrees
To compromise; the other ventures on,
And soon the money is all gone
In wrangling about lawyers′ fees.
They lose their wealth, and then, downhearted,
Regretful talk of how, in joke,
Their father broke
Those arrows, when they once were parted.

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