THE SHEPHERD AND THE LION. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

THE SHEPHERD AND THE LION. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

Fables are sometimes more than they appear:
A crude, bare moral wearies some, I fear.
The simplest animal to truth may lead;
The story and the precept make one heed:
They pass together better than apart:
To please, and yet instruct, that is the art.
To write for writing′s sake seems poor to me;
And for this reason, more especially—
Numbers of famous men, from time to time,
Have written fables in laconic rhyme,
Shunning all ornament and verbose length,
Wasting no word, unless to gain in strength.
Phædrus was so succinct, some men found fault;
Curt Æsop was far readier still to halt.
But, above all, a Greek did most excel,
Who in four verses told what he would tell.
If he succeeded, let the experts say;
Let′s match him now with Æsop, by the way.
A Shepherd and a Hunter they will bring:
I give the point and ending as they sing,
Embroidering here and there, as on I go;—
Thus Æsop told the story, you must know.

A Shepherd, finding in his flocks some gaps,
Thought he might catch the robber in his traps,
And round a cave drew close his netted toils,
Fearing the Wolves, and their unceasing spoils.
"Grant, king of gods, before I leave the place,"
He cried, "grant me to see the brigand′s face.
Let me but watch him rolling in the net.
That is the dearest pleasure I could get!"
Then from a score of calves he chose the beast,
The fattest, for the sacrificial feast.
That moment stepped a Lion from the cave;
The Shepherd, prostrate, all intent to save
His petty life, exclaimed, "How little we
Know what we ask! If I could only see
Safe in my snares, that caused me so much grief,
The helpless, panting, miserable thief,
Great Jove! a Calf I promised to thy fane:
An Ox I′d make it, were I free again."

Thus wrote our leading author of his race;
Now for the imitator, in his place.

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