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THE RABBITS. Jean de La Fontaine

THE RABBITS. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

THE RABBITS. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

I Have often said, on seeing
How men like animals seem to act,
That the lord of the earth, a poor frail being,
Is not much better, in fact,
Than the beasts whom he rules; and that Nature
Has given to each living creature
A sense of morality′s force,
That its origin owes to the one same source.

At that witching hour when day
In the brown of the eve melts away,
Or at that when the long-brooding night
Has just lifted its pinions for flight,
I climb up some tree, at the edge of a wood,
And there, like a Jove, so wise and so good,
I startle with fear
Some young Rabbits gambolling near.

Then the nation of Rabbits,
Which, in tune with its habits,
With eyes and ears both open wide,
Played and browsed on the woodland side,
Perfuming its banquets with odours of thyme,
With a hurry and scurry,
Tails turned in a hurry,
Seeks its earth-sheltered burrows (thieves flying from crime.)
But five minutes, or so,
Have not vanished, when, lo!
More gay than before,
On the fragrant green floor,
A rollicking band,
The Rabbits are there, again, under my hand!
Ah! do we not in this perceive
A picture of the race of men
Who, shipwrecked once, will still again
The safety of the harbour leave,
Risking fresh shipwreck from the selfsame wind?
True Rabbits! They, to fortune blind,
Entrust their wealth, and all their store!
And of this truth take one example more.

When stranger dogs pass through some place
Where they do not of wont reside,
The native dogs at once give chase,
With hungry jaws, all opening wide
(Fearing that the intruders may
Snatch the true owner′s food away),
And never weary till th′ intruders
Are safely driven from their borders.
Just so with those whom gracious fates
Have made the governors of states;
And those whom many artful plans
Have made much-favoured courtesans;
And merchants; men of any kind;
In all you′ll find this jealous mind.
Each one, in his several place,
To the intruder grants no grace.
Your fine coquettes and authors are
Precisely of this character.
Woe to the unknown writer who
Dares publish something bright and new!
Poets forgive you any crime,
If you′ll not rival them in rhyme.
A thousand instances of this
I might recite; but well I wish
That works should never be too long.
Moreover, you should always show
You think your readers wise, you know;
So now I′ll close this song.

Ah! you, to whom I owe so much;
Whose greatness, and whose modesty
Are in exact equality;
Who cannot bear that men should touch
With praiseful tongues your well-earned fame,
Who still will blush with needless shame:
You, who scarcely have allowed
That I should make my verses proud,
And from critics and from time
Protect my insufficient rhyme,
By heading them with one of those
Great names which make our nation′s pride,
Our France, whose annals long disclose
More famous names than all the world beside;
Oh, let me tell the universe
That you gave me this subject for my verse.

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