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THE POWER OF FABLES. Jean de La Fontaine

THE POWER OF FABLES. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

THE POWER OF FABLES. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

How can a great ambassador descend
To simple tales a patient ear to lend?
How could I trifling verses to you bring,
Or dare with transient playfulness to sing?
For if, sometimes, I vainly tried to soar,
Would you not only deem me rash once more?
You have more weighty matters to debate
Than of a Weasel and a Rabbit′s fate.
Read me, or read me not; but, oh, debar
All Europe banding against us in war.
Lest from a thousand places there arise
Fresh enemies our legions to surprise.
England already wearies of her rest,
And views our king′s alliance as a jest.
Is it not time that Louis sought repose?
What Hercules but wearies of his blows
At the huge Hydra?—will it show its might,
And press again the lately ended fight,
By thrusting forth another head to meet,
At his strong sinewy arm, a fresh defeat?
If your mind, pliant, eloquent, and strong,
Could soften hearts, and but avert this wrong,
I′d sacrifice a hundred sheep to you—
A pretty thing for a poor bard to do.
Have then, at least, the kindness graciously
This pinch of incense to receive from me.
Accept my ardent vows, and what I write:
The subject suits you that I here indite.
I′ll not repeat the praises Envy owns
Are due to you, who need not fear her groans.

In Athens′ city, fickle, vain, of old,
An Orator, who dangers manifold
Saw crowding on his country, one day went
Up in the tribune, with the wise intent,
With his skill′d tongue, and his despotic art,
Towards a republic to force every heart.
He spoke with fervour ′bout the common weal;
They would not listen: they were hard as steel.
The Orator, to rouse them, had recourse
To metaphors of greater fire and force,
To sting the basest. He awoke the dead.
He, Zeus-like, flamed and thunder′d o′er each head:
The wind bore all away,—yes, every word.
The many-headed monster had not heard:
They ran to see the rabble children play,
Or two boys fighting made them turn away.
What did the speaker do?—he tried once more:
"Ceres," he said, "once made, we hear, a tour.
An Eel and Swallow follow′d her:
A river gave them some demur.
The Eel it swam: the Swallow flew,
Now what I tell you′s really true."
And as he utter′d this, the crowd
"And Ceres, what did she?" cried loud.
"Just what she did:—then pious rage
Stirr′d him to execrate the age.
What children′s tales absorb your mind,
Careless of all the woes behind!
Thou only careless Grecian state,
What Philip does you should debate."
At this reproach the mob grew still,
And listen′d with a better will:
Such silence a mere fable won!
We′re like the Greeks, all said and done.
And I myself, who preach so well,
If any one to me would tell
"Le Peau d′Ane," I should, with delight,
Listen for half the livelong night.
The world is old, as I have heard,
And I believe it, on my word;
Yet still, though old, I′m reconciled
To entertain it like a child.

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