Thursday, May 8, 2014

La Fontaine: The Swallow; The Eagle (Wright)

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




The Swallow and the Little Birds

By voyages in air,
With constant thought and care,
Much knowledge had a swallow gained,
Which she for public use retained,
The slightest storms she well foreknew,
And told the sailors before they blew.

A farmer sowing hemp, once having found,
She gathered all the little birds around,
And said, "My friends, the freedom let me take
To prophesy a little, for your sake,
Against this dangerous seed.
Though such a bird as I
Knows how to hide or fly,
You birds a caution need.
Do you see that waving hand?
It scatters on the land
What well may cause alarm.
'Twill grow to nets and snares,
To catch you unawares,
And work you fatal harm!
Great multitudes I fear,
Of you, my birdies dear,
That falling seed, so little,
Will bring to cage or kettle!
But though so perilous the plot,
You now may easily defeat it:
All lighting on the seeded spot,
Just scratch up every seed and eat it."

The little birds took little heed,
So fed were they with other seed;
Anon the field was seen
Bedecked in tender green.

The swallow's warning voice was heard again:
"My friends, the product of that deadly grain,
Seize now, and pull it root by root,
Or surely you'll repent its fruit."

"False, babbling prophetess," says one,
"You'd set us at some pretty fun!
To pull this field a thousand birds are needed,
While thousands more with hemp are seeded."

The crop now quite mature,
The swallow adds, "Thus far I have failed of cure;
I have prophesied in vain
Against this fatal grain:
It's grown. And now, my bonny birds,
Though you have disbelieved my words
Thus far, take heed at last —
When you shall see the seed-time past,
And men, no crops to labour for,
On birds shall wage their cruel war,
With deadly net and noose;
Of flying then beware,
Unless you take the air,
Like woodcock, crane, or goose.
But stop; you're not in plight
For such adventurous flight,
Over desert waves and sands,
In search of other lands.
Hence, then, to save your precious souls,
Remains but to say,
"Twill be the safest way,
To chuck yourselves in holes."

Before she had thus far gone,
The birdlings, tired of hearing,
And laughing more than fearing,
Set up a greater jargon
Than did, before the Trojan slaughter,
The Trojans round old Priam's daughter,
And many a bird, in prison grate,
Lamented soon a Trojan fate.

It's thus we heed no instincts but our own;
Believe no evil till the evil's done.


The Eagle and the Beetle 

John Rabbit, by Dame Eagle chased,
Was making for his hole in haste,
When, on his way, he met a beetle's burrow;
I leave you all to think
If such a little chink
Could to a rabbit give protection thorough,
But, since no better could be got,
John Rabbit there was fain to squat.

Of course, in an asylum so absurd,
John felt before long the talons of the bird,
But first, the beetle, interceding, cried,
"Great queen of birds, it cannot be denied,
That, maugre my protection, you can bear
My trembling guest, John Rabbit, through the air.
But do not give me such affront, I pray;
And since he craves your grace,
In pity of his case,
Grant him his life, or take us both away;
For he's my gossip, friend, and neighbour."

In vain the beetle's friendly labour;
The eagle clutched her prey without reply,
And as she flapped her vasty wings to fly,
Struck down our orator and stilled him;
The wonder is she hadn't killed him.

The beetle soon, of sweet revenge in quest,
Flew to the old, gnarled mountain oak,
Which proudly bore that haughty eagle's nest,
And while the bird was gone,
Her eggs, her cherished eggs, he broke,
Not sparing one.

Returning from her flight, the eagle's cry,
Of rage and bitter anguish, filled the sky,
But, by excess of passion blind,
Her enemy she failed to find:
Her wrath in vain, that year it was her fate
To live a mourning mother, desolate.

The next, she built a loftier nest; it was vain;
The beetle found and dashed her eggs again.
John Rabbit's death was thus revenged anew;
The second mourning for her murdered brood
Was such, that through the giant mountain wood,
For six long months, the sleepless echo flew.

The bird, once Ganymede, now made
Her prayer to Jupiter for aid,
And, laying them within his godship's lap,
She thought her eggs now safe from all mishap;
The god his own could not but make them —
No wretch, would venture there to break them,
And no one did. Their enemy, this time,
Upsoaring to a place sublime,
Let fall on his royal robes some dirt,
Which Jove just shaking, with a sudden flirt,
Threw out the eggs, no one knows whither.

When Jupiter informed her how the event
Occurred by purest accident,
The eagle raved; there was no reasoning with her;
She gave out threats of leaving court,
To make the desert her resort,
And other bravaries of this sort;
Poor Jupiter in silence heard
The uproar of his favourite bird.

Before his throne the beetle now appeared,
And by a clear complaint the mystery cleared;
The god pronounced the eagle in the wrong,
But still, their hatred was so old and strong,
These enemies could not be reconciled,
And, that the general peace might not be spoiled—
The best that he could do—the god arranged,
That thence the eagle's pairing should be changed,
To come when beetle folks are only found
Concealed and dormant under ground.


(800 words)


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