La Fontaine: Mice (Wright)

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




The Cockerel, the Cat, and the Young Mouse 

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 passed the mountain bounds of this estate,
And off was trotting on another,
Like some young rat with nothing 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 looked 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 shipped,
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 seemed 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 appeared his den,
The other screamed — 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,
Whenever she can, devours
No other meat than ours."

Remember while you live,
It is by looks that men deceive.


The Mouse Metamorphosed Into A Maid 

A mouse once from an owl's beak fell;
I had not have picked it up, I wis;
A Brahmin did it: very well —
Each country has its prejudice.

The mouse, indeed, was sadly bruised,
Although, as neighbours, we are used
To be more kind to many others,
The Brahmins treat the mice as brothers;
The notion haunts their heads that when
The soul goes forth from dying men,
It enters worm, or bird, or beast,
As Providence or Fate is pleased,
And on this mystery rests their law,
Which from Pythagoras they're said to draw,
And hence the Brahmin kindly prayed
To one who knew the wizard's trade,
To give the creature, wounded sore,
The form in which it lodged before:
Forthwith the mouse became a maid,
Of years about fifteen,
A lovelier was never seen;
She would have waked, I believe,
In Priam's son, a fiercer flame
Than did the beauteous Grecian dame.

Surprised at such a novelty,
The Brahmin to the damsel cried,
"Your choice is free;
For every he
Will seek you for his bride."

Said she, "Am I to have a voice?
The strongest, then, shall be my choice."

"O sun!" the Brahmin cried, "this maid is thine,
And you shall be a son-in-law of mine."

"No," said the sun, "this murky cloud, it seems,
In strength exceeds me, since he hides my beams;
And him I counsel you to take."

Again the reverend Brahmin spake —
"O cloud, on-flying with your stores of water,
Pray wast you born to wed my daughter?"

"Ah, no, alas! For, you may see,
The wind is far too strong for me;
My claims with Boreas' to compare,
I must confess, I do not dare."

"O wind," then cried the Brahmin, vexed,
And wondering what would hinder next —
"Approach, and, with your sweetest air,
Embrace — possess — the fairest fair."

The wind, enraptured, there blew —
A mountain stopped him as he flew,
To him now passed the tennis-ball,
And from him to a creature small.

Said he, "I had wed the maid, but that
I have had a quarrel with the rat;
A fool were I to take the bride
From one so sure to pierce my side."

The rat! It thrilled the damsel's ear;
To name at once seemed sweet and dear.
The rat! It was one of Cupid's blows;
The like full many a maiden knows,
But all of this beneath the rose:
One smacks ever of the place
Where first he showed the world his face.

Thus far the fable's clear as light;
But, if we take a nearer sight,
There lurks within its drapery
Somewhat of graceless sophistry:
For who, that worships even the glorious sun,
Would not prefer to wed some cooler one?
And does a flea's exceed a giant's might,
Because the former can the latter bite?
And, by the rule of strength, the rat
Had sent his bride to wed the cat,
From cat to dog, and onward still
To wolf or tiger, if you will:
Indeed, the fabulist might run
A circle backward to the sun.

But to the change the tale supposes —
In learned phrase, metempsychosis.

The very thing the wizard did
Its falsity exposes —
If that indeed were ever hid.

According to the Brahmin's plan,
The proud aspiring soul of man
And souls that dwell in humbler forms
Of rats and mice, and even worms,
All issue from a common source,
And, hence, they are the same of course:
Unequal but by accident
Of organ and of tenement,
They use one pair of legs, or two,
Or even with none contrive to do,
As tyrant matter binds them to.

Why, then, could not so fine a frame
Constrain its heavenly guest
To wed the solar flame?

A rat her love possessed.
In all respects, compared and weighed,
The souls of men and souls of mice
Quite different are made —
Unlike in sort as well as size:
Each fits and fills its destined part
As Heaven does well provide,
Nor witch, nor fiend, nor magic art,
Can set their laws aside.




(900 words)

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