Thursday, May 8, 2014

La Fontaine: The God Mercury; Hercules (Wright)

These stories are part of the La Fontaine unit. Story source: The Fables of La Fontaine translated by Elizur Wright (1882).




The Woodman and Mercury 

A man that laboured in the wood
Had lost his honest livelihood;
That is to say,
His axe was gone astray:
He had no tools to spare;
This wholly earned his fare.

Without a hope beside,
He sat him down and cried,
"Alas, my axe! where can it be?
O Jove! but send it back to me,
And it shall strike good blows for you."

His prayer in high Olympus heard,
Swift Mercury started at the word.
"Your axe must not be lost," said he:
"Now, will you know it when you see?
An axe I found on the road."
With that an axe of gold he showed.
"Is it this?"

         The woodman answered, "Nay."

An axe of silver, bright and gay,
Refused the honest woodman too.
At last the finder brought to view
An axe of iron, steel, and wood.

"That's mine," he said, in joyful mood;
"With that I'll quite contented be."

The god replied, "I give the three,
As due reward of honesty."

This luck when neighbouring choppers knew,
They lost their axes, not a few,
And sent their prayers to Jupiter
So fast, he knew not which to hear.

His winged son, however, sent
With gold and silver axes, went;
Each would have thought himself a fool
Not to have owned the richest tool,
But Mercury promptly gave, instead
Of it, a blow on the head.

With simple truth to be contented,
Is surest not to be repented;
But still there are who would
With evil trap the good —
Whose cunning is but stupid,
For Jove is never duped.


The Carter In The Mire 

The Phaeton 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, filled with rage extreme,
The mud-holes now he cursed,
And now he cursed his team,
And now his cart and load —
Anon, the like on himself bestowed.

On the god he called at length,
Most famous through the world for strength.
"O, help me, Hercules!" cried he;
"For if your back of yore
This burly planet bore,
Your 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,
Before 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 your wheels around.
Your sledge and crowbar take,
And pry me up that stone, or break;
Now fill that rut on the other side.
Have done it?"

                    "Yes," the man replied.

"Well," said the voice, "I'll aid you now;
Take up your whip."

                    "I have ... but, how?
My cart glides on with ease!
I thank you, Hercules."

"Your team," rejoined the voice, "has light ado;
So help yourself, and Heaven will help you too."



(700 words)

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