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THE RAT AND THE OYSTER. Jean de La Fontaine

THE RAT AND THE OYSTER. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

THE RAT AND THE OYSTER. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

A Rustic Rat, of mighty little sense,
Weary of home, would needs go travel thence;
And quitted the paternal hearth, one day,
To study life in places far away.
At each wide prospect, hitherto unscanned,
He murmured, "Oh, how beautiful! how grand!
Yon mount is Caucasus, begirt with pines;
That range, methinks, must be the Apennines."
For every molehill, to his wondering eyes,
Became a mountain of terrific size.
He reached a province of the land, at last,
Where Tethys, deity of seas, had cast
Some Oysters on the sand, which looked at least
Like first-rate frigates to our simple beast.
"My father is a timid soul," he said,
"Who fears to travel: what an empty dread!
As to myself, what marvels I have seen;
What scores of wonders, earthly and marine!"
Thus boasted he, in magisterial tone,
And boasted loud, though speaking all alone.
Most rats, I beg to say, are more discreet,
And use their lips but when they wish to eat.
Meanwhile, one Oyster—a luxurious one—
With shells apart, was basking in the sun.
Tasting the balmy breeze, it lay agape,—
A fine fat morsel of seductive shape.
The Rat, with moistenings of the under lip
(Mistaking still the Oyster for a ship),
Ran up, and, smelling something nice to eat,
Prepared, straightway, his grinders for a treat.
"The crew," quoth he, "have left a feast on board,—
A cold collation, fit for any lord;
If it deceive me not, I′ve got a prize,
Or else I do not know the use of eyes."
So saying, Master Rat, resolving well,
Peered round the pearly margin of the shell.
It held him fast: the Oyster from his nap
Had woke, and sharply shut his treacherous trap.
This all arose from fatal ignorance:
The fable′s useful to the folks of France,—
Nor France alone: it shows with what surprise
The simplest object strikes a booby′s eyes.
And notice, oftentimes, for want of wit,
The fool, who thinks he′s biting, is first bit.

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