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THE WOLF AND THE FOX. Jean de La Fontaine

THE WOLF AND THE FOX. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

THE WOLF AND THE FOX. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

How comes this general discontent?
Here is a man, for lack of wit,
Longing to live beneath the tent
The soldier′s longing so to quit.

A certain Fox aspired to be
A Wolf: and who′s prepared to say
The Wolf may not think luxury
Consists in the lamb′s peaceful play?

It much surprises me to find
A poet prince, but eight years old,
Who writes prose of a better kind
Than I can verse—aye, twenty fold—
Though long experience makes me bold.

The thoughts throughout his fable spread
Are not a poet′s work, I know.
They′re numerous and better said;
Unto a prince the praise we owe.

I play upon a simple pipe:
That is my talent—just to please;
But soon my hero, growing ripe,
The clarion will make me seize.

I am no prophet, yet I read
The starry signs that promise give.
His glorious acts will Homer need;
Homer, alas! he does not live.

The Fox said to the Wolf, one day, "My dear,
I have but old tough hens for my poor cheer!
One wearies of the food; but you feed well,
And with less hazard. I, where people dwell,
Slink round, while you keep prudently away.
Teach me your trade, my noble comrade, pray!
Make me the first of all my race who slew
A good fat sheep, and took him for a stew!"
"I shall not be ungrateful," the Wolf said;
"′Tis well, I have a brother newly dead;
Put on his skin." Fox took it, and obeyed.
The Wolf then bid him not to be afraid
Of all the mastiffs of the shepherds flock:
The Fox learnt of his maxims the whole stock,
First blundered much, then studied all he could,
And, lastly, well the precepts understood.
Just as he finished, there came passing by
A drove of sheep. He runs at them—they fly.
The new-made Wolf spreads terror everywhere;
And frightened bleatings fill the troubled air.
So in Achilles arms Patroclus came:—
Mothers and old men shudder at his name.
The sheep see fifty wolves; and, in full cry,
Dogs, sheep, and shepherds to the village fly.
One only, as a hostage, left behind,
Is by the villain seized. Upon the wind,
Just then, came crow of lusty chanticleer:
The pupil snapped the fowl, and without fear,
Threw by his school-dress, all his task forgot,
And ran off, heedless of his future lot.
How useless was this counterfeiting then!
The changed suit hindered not the watchful men.
They follow in his track the self-same day,
And when they find him, they are quick to slay.

From your unequalled mind my poor muse drew
The story and its moral, plain but true.

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