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THE WISHES. Jean de La Fontaine

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

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

In the Mogul′s dominions far away,
Certain small spirits there are often found,
Who sweep the house and dig the garden ground,
And guard your equipage by night and day:
If you but touch their work, you spoil the whole.
One of these spirits near the Ganges, then,
Toiled at the garden of a citizen;
And with a silent skill worked heart and soul.
He loved his master and his mistress, too,
The garden most. The Zephyrs (Heaven knows),
Friends of the genii, as the story goes,
Perhaps assisted him, whate′er he′d do.
He toiled unceasingly to show his zeal,
Loaded his host with gifts, a brimming store,
Boundless of pleasure; indeed, wished no more
To leave those friends for whom he thus could feel.
Fickle such spirits are, yet true was he;
His brother genii, joining in a plot,
The chief of their republic quickly got,
From some caprice or jealous policy,
To order him to go to Norway straight.
To guard a hut covered with changeless snows,
From India straight to Lapland. Ere he goes
The Spirit with his master holds debate:
"They make me leave you, yet I know not why;
For some forgotten fault, and I obey;
But be the time a month, or but a day,
I′ll grant you now Three Wishes ere I fly—
Three, and no more. It is not hard, I know,
For man to wish—how easy, we all see."
They wished Abundance, and then presently
Abundance came; fast from her full hands flow
The golden streams, barns brim with piles of wheat;
The cellars with rich casks are almost burst:
How to arrange the stores—that is the worst;
What ceaseless care! what toil of hands and feet!
Thieves plot against them, nobles will still borrow;
The Prince heaps taxes: hapless is their fate;
Their sorrow, too much fortune, luck too great.
They say, "Take from us wealth, let′s wake to-morrow
Poor as before. Happy the indigent;
Poverty′s better than such wealth," their cry:
"Treasures, begone, take wings at once, and fly;
Of that so foolish wish we both repent.
Come, Moderation, mother of Repose,
Friend of good sense, O Moderation, come!"
She comes once more unto her former home;
The door behind her joyfully they close.
Two wishes gone, and not so luckily,
Their lot was that of those who dream away
Life in vain sighings, stealing, day by day,
Time better spent in honest industry.
The Spirit smiled at them; ere taking flight,
While yet his wings were spread, the one wish more
They asked; and this time Wisdom—that′s a store
That never can embarrass, day or night.

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