La Fontaine: The Owl; The Lark (Wright)

Story source: The Fables of La Fontaine translated by Elizur Wright (1882).




The Eagle and the Owl 

The eagle and the owl, resolved to cease
Their war, embraced in pledge of peace;
On faith of king, on faith of owl, they swore
That they would eat each other's chicks no more.

"But know you mine?" said Wisdom's bird.

"Not I, indeed," the eagle cried.

"The worse for that," the owl replied:
"I fear your oath's a useless word;
I fear that you, as king, will not
Consider duly who or what:
You kings and gods, of what's before you,
Are apt to make one category.
Adieu, my young, if you should meet them!"

"Describe them, then, or let me greet them,
And, on my life, I will not eat them,"
The eagle said.

                      The owl replied:
"My little ones, I say with pride,
For grace of form cannot be matched,—
The prettiest birds that ever were hatched;
By this you cannot fail to know them;
It's needless, therefore, that I show them.
Pray don't forget, but keep this mark in view,
Lest fate should curse my happy nest by you."

At length God gives the owl a set of heirs,
And while at early eve abroad he fares,
In quest of birds and mice for food,
Our eagle haply spies the brood,
As on some craggy rock they sprawl,
Or nestle in some ruined wall,
(But which it matters not at all)
And thinks them ugly little frights,
Grim, sad, with voice like shrieking sprites.

"These chicks," says he, "with looks almost infernal,
Can't be the darlings of our friend nocturnal.
I'll sup of them." And so he did, not slightly:
He never sups, if he can help it, lightly.

The owl returned, and, sad, he found
Nothing left but claws on the ground;
He prayed the gods above and gods below
To smite the brigand who had caused his woe.

Said one, "On you alone the blame must fall;
Or rather on the law of nature,
Which wills that every earthly creature
Shall think its like the loveliest of all;
You told the eagle of your young ones' graces,
You gave the picture of their faces:
Had it of likeness any traces?"


The Lark And Her Young Ones

"Depend on yourself alone,"
Has to a common proverb grown;
It's thus confirmed in Aesop's way:

The larks to build their nests are seen
Among the wheat-crops young and green;
That is to say,
What time all things, dame Nature heeding,
Betake themselves to love and breeding —
The monstrous whales and sharks,
Beneath the briny flood,
The tigers in the wood,
And in the fields, the larks.

One she, however, of these last,
Found more than half the spring-time past
Without the taste of spring-time pleasures;
When firmly she set up her will
That she would be a mother still,
And resolutely took her measures —
First, got herself by Hymen matched;
Then built her nest, laid, sat, and hatched.

All went as well as such things could.
The wheat-crop ripening before the brood
Were strong enough to take their flight,
Aware how perilous their plight,
The lark went out to search for food,
And told her young to listen well,
And keep a constant sentinel.

"The owner of this field," said she,
"Will come, I know, his grain to see.
Hear all he says; we little birds
Must shape our conduct by his words."

No sooner was the lark away,
Than came the owner with his son.
"This wheat is ripe," said he: "now run
And give our friends a call
To bring their sickles all,
And help us, great and small,
Tomorrow, at the break of day."

The lark, returning, found no harm,
Except her nest in wild alarm.
Says one, "We heard the owner say,
Go, give our friends a call
To help, tomorrow, break of day."

Replied the lark, "If that is all,
We need not be in any fear,
But only keep an open ear.
As gay as larks, now eat your victuals."

They ate and slept—the great and littles.
The dawn arrives, but not the friends;
The lark soars up, the owner wends
His usual round to view his land.

"This grain," says he, "ought not to stand.
Our friends do wrong; and so does he
Who trusts that friends will friendly be.
My son, go call our kith and kin
To help us get our harvest in."

This second order made
The little larks still more afraid.
"He sent for kindred, mother, by his son;
The work will now, indeed, be done."

"No, darlings; go to sleep;
Our lowly nest we'll keep."

With reason said; for kindred there came none.
Thus, tired of expectation vain,
Once more the owner viewed his grain.
"My son," said he, "we're surely fools
To wait for other people's tools;
As if one might, for love or pelf,
Have friends more faithful than himself!
Engrave this lesson deep, my son.
And know you now what must be done?
We must ourselves our sickles bring,
And, while the larks their matins sing,
Begin the work; and, on this plan,
Get in our harvest as we can."

This plan the lark no sooner knew,
Than, "Now's the time," she said, "my chicks;"
And, taking little time to fix,
Away they flew;
All fluttering, soaring, often grounding,
Decamped without a trumpet sounding.






(800 words)

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