The Fables of La Fontaine, by Jean de La Fontaine

Book VI.

I. — The Shepherd and the Lion.1

Of fables judge not by their face;

They give the simplest brute a teacher’s place.

Bare precepts were inert and tedious things;

The story gives them life and wings.

But story for the story’s sake

Were sorry business for the wise;

As if, for pill that one should take,

You gave the sugary disguise.

For reasons such as these,

Full many writers great and good

Have written in this frolic mood,

And made their wisdom please.

But tinsel’d style they all have shunn’d with care;

With them one never sees a word to spare.

Of Phaedrus some have blamed the brevity,

While Aesop uses fewer words than he.

A certain Greek,2 however, beats

Them both in his larconic feats.

Each tale he locks in verses four;

The well or ill I leave to critic lore.

At Aesop’s side to see him let us aim,

Upon a theme substantially the same.

The one selects a lover of the chase;

A shepherd comes, the other’s tale to grace.

Their tracks I keep, though either tale may grow

A little in its features as I go.

The one which Aesop tells is nearly this:—

A shepherd from his flock began to miss,

And long’d to catch the stealer of, his sheep.

Before a cavern, dark and deep,

Where wolves retired by day to sleep,

Which he suspected as the thieves,

He set his trap among the leaves;

And, ere he left the place,

He thus invoked celestial grace:—

‘O king of all the powers divine,

Against the rogue but grant me this delight,

That this my trap may catch him in my sight,

And I, from twenty calves of mine,

Will make the fattest thine.’

But while the words were on his tongue,

Forth came a lion great and strong.

Down crouch’d the man of sheep, and said,

With shivering fright half dead,

‘Alas! that man should never be aware

Of what may be the meaning of his prayer!

To catch the robber of my flocks,

O king of gods, I pledged a calf to thee:

If from his clutches thou wilt rescue me,

I’ll raise my offering to an ox.’

’Tis thus the master-author3 tells the story:

Now hear the rival of his glory.

1] Aesop.

2] A certain Greek. — Gabrias. — La Fontaine. This is Babrias, the Greek fabulist, to whom La Fontaine gives the older form of his name. La Fontaine’s strictures on this “rival” of Aesop proceed from the fact that he read the author in the corrupted form of the edition by Ignatius Magister (ninth century). It was not till a century after La Fontaine wrote, that the fame of Babrias was cleared by Bentley and Tyrwhitt, who brought his Fables to light in their original form.

3] Master-author, &c. — The “master-author” is Aesop; the rival, Gabrias, or Babrias. The last line refers the reader to the following fable for comparison. In the original editions of La Fontaine, the two fables appear together with the heading “Fables I. et II.”

II. — The Lion and the Hunter.4

A braggart, lover of the chase,

Had lost a dog of valued race,

And thought him in a lion’s maw.

He ask’d a shepherd whom he saw,

‘Pray show me, man, the robber’s place,

And I’ll have justice in the case.’

“Tis on this mountain side,’

The shepherd man replied.

‘The tribute of a sheep I pay,

Each month, and where I please I stray.’

Out leap’d the lion as he spake,

And came that way, with agile feet.

The braggart, prompt his flight to take,

Cried, ‘Jove, O grant a safe retreat!’

A danger close at hand

Of courage is the test.

It shows us who will stand —

Whose legs will run their best.

4] Gabrias, or Babrias; and Aesop. See note to preceding fable.

III. — Phoebus and Boreas.5

Old Boreas and the sun, one day

Espied a traveller on his way,

Whose dress did happily provide

Against whatever might betide.

The time was autumn, when, indeed,

All prudent travellers take heed.

The rains that then the sunshine dash,

And Iris with her splendid sash,

Warn one who does not like to soak

To wear abroad a good thick cloak.

Our man was therefore well bedight

With double mantle, strong and tight.

‘This fellow,’ said the wind, ‘has meant

To guard from every ill event;

But little does he wot that I

Can blow him such a blast

That, not a button fast,

His cloak shall cleave the sky.

Come, here’s a pleasant game, Sir Sun!

Wilt play?’ Said Phoebus, ‘Done!

We’ll bet between us here

Which first will take the gear

From off this cavalier.

Begin, and shut away.

The brightness of my ray.’

‘Enough.’ Our blower, on the bet,

Swell’d out his pursy form

With all the stuff for storm —

The thunder, hail, and drenching wet,

And all the fury he could muster;

Then, with a very demon’s bluster,

He whistled, whirl’d, and splash’d,

And down the torrents dash’d,

Full many a roof uptearing

He never did before,

Full many a vessel bearing

To wreck upon the shore, —

And all to doff a single cloak.

But vain the furious stroke;

The traveller was stout,

And kept the tempest out,

Defied the hurricane,

Defied the pelting rain;

And as the fiercer roar’d the blast,

His cloak the tighter held he fast.

The sun broke out, to win the bet;

He caused the clouds to disappear,

Refresh’d and warm’d the cavalier,

And through his mantle made him sweat,

Till off it came, of course,

In less than half an hour;

And yet the sun saved half his power. —

So much doth mildness more than force.

5] Aesop and Lokman; also P. Hegemon.

IV. — Jupiter and the Farmer.6

Of yore, a farm had Jupiter to rent;

To advertise it, Mercury was sent.

The farmers, far and near,

Flock’d round, the terms to hear;

And, calling to their aid

The various tricks of trade,

One said ’twas rash a farm to hire

Which would so much expense require;

Another, that, do what you would,

The farm would still be far from good.

While thus, in market style, its faults were told,

One of the crowd, less wise than bold,

Would give so much, on this condition,

That Jove would yield him altogether

The choice and making of his weather, —

That, instantly on his decision,

His various crops should feel the power

Of heat or cold, of sun or shower.

Jove yields. The bargain closed, our man

Rains, blows, and takes the care

Of all the changes of the air,

On his peculiar, private plan.

His nearest neighbours felt it not,

And all the better was their lot.

Their year was good, by grace divine;

The grain was rich, and full the vine.

The renter, failing altogether,

The next year made quite different weather;

And yet the fruit of all his labours

Was far inferior to his neighbours’.

What better could he do? To Heaven

He owns at last his want of sense,

And so is graciously forgiven.

Hence we conclude that Providence

Knows better what we need

Than we ourselves, indeed.

6] Aesop; and Faerno.

V. — The Cockerel, the Cat, and the Young Mouse.7

A youthful mouse, not up to trap,

Had almost met a sad mishap.

The story hear him thus relate,

With great importance, to his mother:—

‘I pass’d the mountain bounds of this estate,

And off was trotting on another,

Like some young rat with nought to do

But see things wonderful and new,

When two strange creatures came in view.

The one was mild, benign, and gracious;

The other, turbulent, rapacious,

With voice terrific, shrill, and rough,

And on his head a bit of stuff

That look’d like raw and bloody meat,

Raised up a sort of arms, and beat

The air, as if he meant to fly,

And bore his plumy tail on high.’

A cock, that just began to crow,

As if some nondescript,

From far New Holland shipp’d,

Was what our mousling pictured so.

‘He beat his arms,’ said he, ‘and raised his voice,

And made so terrible a noise,

That I, who, thanks to Heaven, may justly boast

Myself as bold as any mouse,

Scud off, (his voice would even scare a ghost!)

And cursed himself and all his house;

For, but for him, I should have staid,

And doubtless an acquaintance made

With her who seem’d so mild and good.

Like us, in velvet cloak and hood,

She wears a tail that’s full of grace,

A very sweet and humble face, —

No mouse more kindness could desire, —

And yet her eye is full of fire.

I do believe the lovely creature

A friend of rats and mice by nature.

Her ears, though, like herself, they’re bigger,

Are just like ours in form and figure.

To her I was approaching, when,

Aloft on what appear’d his den,

The other scream’d, — and off I fled.’

‘My son,’ his cautious mother said,

‘That sweet one was the cat,

The mortal foe of mouse and rat,

Who seeks by smooth deceit,

Her appetite to treat.

So far the other is from that,

We yet may eat

His dainty meat;

Whereas the cruel cat,

Whene’er she can, devours

No other meat than ours.’

Remember while you live,

It is by looks that men deceive.

7] Abstemius.

VI. — The Fox, the Monkey, and the Animals.8

Left kingless by the lion’s death,

The beasts once met, our story saith,

Some fit successor to install.

Forth from a dragon-guarded, moated place,

The crown was brought, and, taken from its case,

And being tried by turns on all,

The heads of most were found too small;

Some hornèd were, and some too big;

Not one would fit the regal gear.

For ever ripe for such a rig,

The monkey, looking very queer,

Approach’d with antics and grimaces,

And, after scores of monkey faces,

With what would seem a gracious stoop,

Pass’d through the crown as through a hoop.

The beasts, diverted with the thing,

Did homage to him as their king.

The fox alone the vote regretted,

But yet in public never fretted.

When he his compliments had paid

To royalty, thus newly made,

‘Great sire, I know a place,’ said he,

‘Where lies conceal’d a treasure,

Which, by the right of royalty,

Should bide your royal pleasure.’

The king lack’d not an appetite

For such financial pelf,

And, not to lose his royal right,

Ran straight to see it for himself.

It was a trap, and he was caught.

Said Renard, ‘Would you have it thought,

You ape, that you can fill a throne,

And guard the rights of all, alone,

Not knowing how to guard your own?’

The beasts all gather’d from the farce,

That stuff for kings is very scarce.

8] Aesop; also Faerno.

VII. — The Mule Boasting of His Genealogy.9

A prelate’s mule of noble birth was proud,

And talk’d, incessantly and loud,

Of nothing but his dam, the mare,

Whose mighty deeds by him recounted were, —

This had she done, and had been present there, —

By which her son made out his claim

To notice on the scroll of Fame.

Too proud, when young, to bear a doctor’s pill;

When old, he had to turn a mill.

As there they used his limbs to bind,

His sire, the ass, was brought to mind.

Misfortune, were its only use

The claims of folly to reduce,

And bring men down to sober reason,

Would be a blessing in its season.

9] Aesop.

VIII. — The Old Man and the Ass.10

An old man, riding on his ass,

Had found a spot of thrifty grass,

And there turn’d loose his weary beast.

Old Grizzle, pleased with such a feast,

Flung up his heels, and caper’d round,

Then roll’d and rubb’d upon the ground,

And frisk’d and browsed and bray’d,

And many a clean spot made.

Arm’d men came on them as he fed:

‘Let’s fly,’ in haste the old man said.

‘And wherefore so?’ the ass replied;

‘With heavier burdens will they ride?’

‘No,’ said the man, already started.

‘Then,’ cried the ass, as he departed,

‘I’ll stay, and be — no matter whose;

Save you yourself, and leave me loose.

But let me tell you, ere you go,

(I speak plain French, you know,)

My master is my only foe.’

10] Phaedras. I. 15.

IX. — The Stag Seeing Himself in the Water.11

Beside a placid, crystal flood,

A stag admired the branching wood

That high upon his forehead stood,

But gave his Maker little thanks

For what he call’d his spindle shanks.

‘What limbs are these for such a head! —

So mean and slim!’ with grief he said.

‘My glorious heads o’ertops

The branches of the copse;

My legs are my disgrace.’

As thus he talk’d, a bloodhound gave him chase.

To save his life he flew

Where forests thickest grew.

His horns, — pernicious ornament! —

Arresting him where’er he went,

Did unavailing render

What else, in such a strife,

Had saved his precious life —

His legs, as fleet as slender.

Obliged to yield, he cursed the gear

Which nature gave him every year.

Too much the beautiful we prize;

The useful, often, we despise:

Yet oft, as happen’d to the stag,

The former doth to ruin drag.

11] Aesop; also Phaedrus, I.12.

X. — The Hare and the Tortoise.12

To win a race, the swiftness of a dart

Availeth not without a timely start.

The hare and tortoise are my witnesses.

Said tortoise to the swiftest thing that is,

‘I’ll bet that you’ll not reach, so soon as I

The tree on yonder hill we spy.’

‘So soon! Why, madam, are you frantic?’

Replied the creature, with an antic;

‘Pray take, your senses to restore,

A grain or two of hellebore.’13

‘Say,’ said the tortoise, ‘what you will;

I dare you to the wager still.’

’Twas done; the stakes were paid,

And near the goal tree laid —

Of what, is not a question for this place,

Nor who it was that judged the race.

Our hare had scarce five jumps to make,

Of such as he is wont to take,

When, starting just before their beaks

He leaves the hounds at leisure,

Thence till the kalends of the Greeks,14

The sterile heath to measure.

Thus having time to browse and doze,

And list which way the zephyr blows,

He makes himself content to wait,

And let the tortoise go her gait

In solemn, senatorial state.

She starts; she moils on, modestly and lowly,

And with a prudent wisdom hastens slowly;

But he, meanwhile, the victory despises,

Thinks lightly of such prizes,

Believes it for his honour

To take late start and gain upon her.

So, feeding, sitting at his ease,

He meditates of what you please,

Till his antagonist he sees

Approach the goal; then starts,

Away like lightning darts:

But vainly does he run;

The race is by the tortoise won.

Cries she, ‘My senses do I lack?

What boots your boasted swiftness now?

You’re beat! and yet, you must allow,

I bore my house upon my back.’

12] Aesop; also Lokman.

13] Hellebore. — The ancient remedy for insanity.

14] Kalends of the Greeks. — The Greeks, unlike the Romans, had no kalends in their computation of time, hence the frequent use of this expression to convey the idea of an indefinite period of time.

XI. — The Ass and His Masters.15

A gardener’s ass complain’d to Destiny

Of being made to rise before the dawn.

‘The cocks their matins have not sung,’ said he,

‘Ere I am up and gone.

And all for what? To market herbs, it seems.

Fine cause, indeed, to interrupt my dreams!’

Fate, moved by such a prayer,

Sent him a currier’s load to bear,

Whose hides so heavy and ill-scented were,

They almost choked the foolish beast.

‘I wish me with my former lord,’ he said;

‘For then, whene’er he turn’d his head,

If on the watch, I caught

A cabbage-leaf, which cost me nought.

But, in this horrid place, I find

No chance or windfall of the kind:—

Or if, indeed, I do,

The cruel blows I rue.’

Anon it came to pass

He was a collier’s ass.

Still more complaint. ‘What now?’ said Fate,

Quite out of patience.

‘If on this jackass I must wait,

What will become of kings and nations?

Has none but he aught here to tease him?

Have I no business but to please him?’

And Fate had cause; — for all are so.

Unsatisfied while here below

Our present lot is aye the worst.

Our foolish prayers the skies infest.

Were Jove to grant all we request,

The din renew’d, his head would burst.

15] Aesop.

XII. — The Sun and the Frogs.16

Rejoicing on their tyrant’s wedding-day,

The people drown’d their care in drink;

While from the general joy did Aesop shrink,

And show’d its folly in this way.

‘The sun,’ said he, ‘once took it in his head

To have a partner for his bed.

From swamps, and ponds, and marshy bogs,

Up rose the wailings of the frogs.

“What shall we do, should he have progeny?”

Said they to Destiny;

“One sun we scarcely can endure,

And half-a-dozen, we are sure,

Will dry the very sea.

Adieu to marsh and fen!

Our race will perish then,

Or be obliged to fix

Their dwelling in the Styx!”

For such an humble animal,

The frog, I take it, reason’d well.’

16] There is another fable with this title, viz., Fable XXIV., Book XII. This fable in its earlier form will be found in Phaedrus, I.6.

XIII. — The Countryman and the Serpent.17

A countryman, as Aesop certifies,

A charitable man, but not so wise,

One day in winter found,

Stretch’d on the snowy ground,

A chill’d or frozen snake,

As torpid as a stake,

And, if alive, devoid of sense.

He took him up, and bore him home,

And, thinking not what recompense

For such a charity would come,

Before the fire stretch’d him,

And back to being fetch’d him.

The snake scarce felt the genial heat

Before his heart with native malice beat.

He raised his head, thrust out his forkèd tongue,

Coil’d up, and at his benefactor sprung.

‘Ungrateful wretch!’ said he, ‘is this the way

My care and kindness you repay?

Now you shall die.’ With that his axe he takes,

And with two blows three serpents makes.

Trunk, head, and tail were separate snakes;

And, leaping up with all their might,

They vainly sought to reunite.

’Tis good and lovely to be kind;

But charity should not be blind;

For as to wretchedness ingrate,

You cannot raise it from its wretched state.

17] Aesop; also Phaedrus, IV.18.

XIV. — The Sick Lion and the Fox.18

Sick in his den, we understand,

The king of beasts sent out command

That of his vassals every sort

Should send some deputies to court —

With promise well to treat

Each deputy and suite;

On faith of lion, duly written,

None should be scratch’d, much less be bitten.

The royal will was executed,

And some from every tribe deputed;

The foxes, only, would not come.

One thus explain’d their choice of home:—

‘Of those who seek the court, we learn,

The tracks upon the sand

Have one direction, and

Not one betokens a return.

This fact begetting some distrust,

His majesty at present must

Excuse us from his great levee.

His plighted word is good, no doubt;

But while how beasts get in we see,

We do not see how they get out.’

18] Aesop.

XV. — The Fowler, the Hawk, and the Lark.19

From wrongs of wicked men we draw

Excuses for our own:—

Such is the universal law.

Would you have mercy shown,

Let yours be clearly known.

A fowler’s mirror served to snare

The little tenants of the air.

A lark there saw her pretty face,

And was approaching to the place.

A hawk, that sailed on high

Like vapour in the sky,

Came down, as still as infant’s breath,

On her who sang so near her death.

She thus escaped the fowler’s steel,

The hawk’s malignant claws to feel.

While in his cruel way,

The pirate pluck’d his prey,

Upon himself the net was sprung.

‘O fowler,’ pray’d he in the hawkish tongue,

‘Release me in thy clemency!

I never did a wrong to thee.’

The man replied, “Tis true;

And did the lark to you?’

19] Abstemius, 3.

XVI. — The Horse and the Ass.20

In such a world, all men, of every grade,

Should each the other kindly aid;

For, if beneath misfortune’s goad

A neighbour falls, on you will fall his load.

There jogg’d in company an ass and horse;

Nought but his harness did the last endorse;

The other bore a load that crush’d him down,

And begg’d the horse a little help to give,

Or otherwise he could not reach the town.

‘This prayer,’ said he, ‘is civil, I believe;

One half this burden you would scarcely feel.’

The horse refused, flung up a scornful heel,

And saw his comrade die beneath the weight:—

And saw his wrong too late;

For on his own proud back

They put the ass’s pack,

And over that, beside,

They put the ass’s hide.

20] Aesop.

XVII. — The Dog that Dropped the Substance for the Shadow.21

This world is full of shadow-chasers,

Most easily deceived.

Should I enumerate these racers,

I should not be believed.

I send them all to Aesop’s dog,

Which, crossing water on a log,

Espied the meat he bore, below;

To seize its image, let it go;

Plunged in; to reach the shore was glad,

With neither what he hoped, nor what he’d had.

21] Aesop; also Phaedrus, I. 4.

XVIII. — The Carter in the Mire.22

The Phaëton who drove a load of hay

Once found his cart bemired.

Poor man! the spot was far away

From human help — retired,

In some rude country place,

In Brittany, as near as I can trace,

Near Quimper Corentan, —

A town that poet never sang, —

Which Fate, they say, puts in the traveller’s path,

When she would rouse the man to special wrath.

May Heaven preserve us from that route!

But to our carter, hale and stout:—

Fast stuck his cart; he swore his worst,

And, fill’d with rage extreme,

The mud-holes now he cursed,

And now he cursed his team,

And now his cart and load, —

Anon, the like upon himself bestow’d.

Upon the god he call’d at length,

Most famous through the world for strength.

‘O, help me, Hercules!’ cried he;

‘For if thy back of yore

This burly planet bore,

Thy arm can set me free.’

This prayer gone up, from out a cloud there broke

A voice which thus in godlike accents spoke:—

‘The suppliant must himself bestir,

Ere Hercules will aid confer.

Look wisely in the proper quarter,

To see what hindrance can be found;

Remove the execrable mud and mortar,

Which, axle-deep, beset thy wheels around.

Thy sledge and crowbar take,

And pry me up that stone, or break;

Now fill that rut upon the other side.

Hast done it?’ ‘Yes,’ the man replied.

‘Well,’ said the voice, ‘I’ll aid thee now;

Take up thy whip.’ ‘I have . . . but, how?

My cart glides on with ease!

I thank thee, Hercules.’

‘Thy team,’ rejoin’d the voice, ‘has light ado;

So help thyself, and Heaven will help thee too.’

22] Avianus; also Faerno; also Rabelais, Book IV., ch. 23, Bohn’s edition.

XIX. — The Charlatan.23

The world has never lack’d its charlatans,

More than themselves have lack’d their plans.

One sees them on the stage at tricks

Which mock the claims of sullen Styx.

What talents in the streets they post!

One of them used to boast

Such mastership of eloquence

That he could make the greatest dunce

Another Tully Cicero

In all the arts that lawyers know.

‘Ay, sirs, a dunce, a country clown,

The greatest blockhead of your town, —

Nay more, an animal, an ass, —

The stupidest that nibbles grass, —

Needs only through my course to pass,

And he shall wear the gown

With credit, honour, and renown.’

The prince heard of it, call’d the man, thus spake:

‘My stable holds a steed

Of the Arcadian breed,24

Of which an orator I wish to make.’

‘Well, sire, you can,’

Replied our man.

At once his majesty

Paid the tuition fee.

Ten years must roll, and then the learned ass

Should his examination pass,

According to the rules

Adopted in the schools;

If not, his teacher was to tread the air,

With halter’d neck, above the public square, —

His rhetoric bound on his back,

And on his head the ears of jack.

A courtier told the rhetorician,

With bows and terms polite,

He would not miss the sight

Of that last pendent exhibition;

For that his grace and dignity

Would well become such high degree;

And, on the point of being hung,

He would bethink him of his tongue,

And show the glory of his art, —

The power to melt the hardest heart, —

And wage a war with time

By periods sublime —

A pattern speech for orators thus leaving,

Whose work is vulgarly call’d thieving.

‘Ah!’ was the charlatan’s reply,

‘Ere that, the king, the ass, or I,

Shall, one or other of us, die.’

And reason good had he;

We count on life most foolishly,

Though hale and hearty we may be.

In each ten years, death cuts down one in three.

23] Abstemius.

24] Steed of the Arcadian breed. — An ass, as in Fable XVII, Book VIII.

XX. — Discord.

The goddess Discord, having made, on high,

Among the gods a general grapple,

And thence a lawsuit, for an apple,

Was turn’d out, bag and baggage, from the sky.

The animal call’d man, with open arms,

Received the goddess of such naughty charms, —

Herself and Whether-or-no, her brother,

With Thine-and-mine, her stingy mother.

In this, the lower universe,

Our hemisphere she chose to curse:

For reasons good she did not please

To visit our antipodes —

Folks rude and savage like the beasts,

Who, wedding-free from forms and priests,

In simple tent or leafy bower,

Make little work for such a power.

That she might know exactly where

Her direful aid was in demand,

Renown flew courier through the land,

Reporting each dispute with care;

Then she, outrunning Peace, was quickly there;

And if she found a spark of ire,

Was sure to blow it to a fire.

At length, Renown got out of patience

At random hurrying o’er the nations,

And, not without good reason, thought

A goddess, like her mistress, ought

To have some fix’d and certain home,

To which her customers might come;

For now they often search’d in vain.

With due location, it was plain

She might accomplish vastly more,

And more in season than before.

To find, howe’er, the right facilities,

Was harder, then, than now it is;

For then there were no nunneries.

So, Hymen’s inn at last assign’d,

Thence lodged the goddess to her mind.25

25] La Fontaine, gentle reader, does not mean to say that Discord lodges with all married people, but that the foul fiend is never better satisfied than when she can find such accommodation. — Translator.

XXI. — The Young Widow.26

A husband’s death brings always sighs;

The widow sobs, sheds tears — then dries.

Of Time the sadness borrows wings;

And Time returning pleasure brings.

Between the widow of a year

And of a day, the difference

Is so immense,

That very few who see her

Would think the laughing dame

And weeping one the same.

The one puts on repulsive action,

The other shows a strong attraction.

The one gives up to sighs, or true or false;

The same sad note is heard, whoever calls.

Her grief is inconsolable,

They say. Not so our fable,

Or, rather, not so says the truth.

To other worlds a husband went

And left his wife in prime of youth.

Above his dying couch she bent,

And cried, ‘My love, O wait for me!

My soul would gladly go with thee!’

(But yet it did not go.)

The fair one’s sire, a prudent man,

Check’d not the current of her woe.

At last he kindly thus began:—

‘My child, your grief should have its bound.

What boots it him beneath the ground

That you should drown your charms?

Live for the living, not the dead.

I don’t propose that you be led

At once to Hymen’s arms;

But give me leave, in proper time,

To rearrange the broken chime

With one who is as good, at least,

In all respects, as the deceased.’

‘Alas!’ she sigh’d, ‘the cloister vows

Befit me better than a spouse.’

The father left the matter there.

About one month thus mourn’d the fair;

Another month, her weeds arranged;

Each day some robe or lace she changed,

Till mourning dresses served to grace,

And took of ornament the place.

The frolic band of loves

Came flocking back like doves.

Jokes, laughter, and the dance,

The native growth of France,

Had finally their turn;

And thus, by night and morn,

She plunged, to tell the truth,

Deep in the fount of youth.

Her sire no longer fear’d

The dead so much endear’d;

But, as he never spoke,

Herself the silence broke:—

‘Where is that youthful spouse,’ said she,

‘Whom, sir, you lately promised me?’

26] Abstemius.


Here check we our career:

Long books I greatly fear.

I would not quite exhaust my stuff;

The flower of subjects is enough.

To me, the time is come, it seems,

To draw my breath for other themes.

Love, tyrant of my life, commands

That other work be on my hands.

I dare not disobey.

Once more shall Psyche be my lay.

I’m call’d by Damon to portray

Her sorrows and her joys.

I yield: perhaps, while she employs,

My muse will catch a richer glow;

And well if this my labour’d strain

Shall be the last and only pain

Her spouse27 shall cause me here below.

27] Her spouse. — Cupid, the spouse of Psyche. The “other work on my hands” mentioned in this Epilogue (the end of the poet’s first collection of Fables) was no doubt the writing of his “Psyche,” which was addressed to his patron the Duchess de Bouillon, and published in 1659, the year following the publication of the first six Books of the Fables. See also Translator’s Preface.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57