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THE OWL AND THE MICE. Jean de La Fontaine

THE OWL AND THE MICE. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

THE OWL AND THE MICE. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

Whene′er you have a tale to tell,
Ne′er call it marvellous yourself,
If you would have it go down well,
For, if you do, some spiteful elf
Will scorn it; but for once I′ll vow
The tale that I shall tell you now
Is marvellous, and though like fable,
May be received as veritable.

So old a forest pine had grown,
At last ′twas marked to be cut down.
Within its branches′ dark retreat

An Owl had made its gloomy seat—
The bird that Atropos thought meet
Its cry of vengeance to repeat.
Deep in this pine-tree′s stem, time-worn,
With other living things forlorn,
Lived swarms of Mice, who had no toes;
But never Mice were fat as those,
For Master Owl, who′d snipped and torn,
Day after day fed them on corn.
The wise bird reasoned thus: "I′ve oft
Caught and stored Mice within my croft,
Which ran away, and ′scaped my claws;
One remedy is, I′ll cut their paws,
And eat them slowly at my ease—
Now one of those, now one of these.
To eat them all at once were blameful,
And my digestion is so shameful."

You see the Owl was, in his way,
As wise as we; so, day by day,
His Mice had fit and due provision.
Yet, after this, some rash Cartesian
Is obstinate enough to swear
That Owls but mechanism are.
But how, then, could this night-bird find
This craftily-contrived device,
The nibbling of the paws of mice,
Were he not furnished with a mind?

See how he argued craftily:
"Whene′er I catch these Mice, they flee;
And so the only way to save them
Is at one huge meal to brave them.
But that I cannot do; besides,
The wise man for bad days provides.
But how to keep them within reach?
Why, neatly bite the paws from each."
Now, could there, gentle reader mine,
Be human reasoning more fine?
Could Aristotle′s self have wrought
A closer chain of argued thought?

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