La Fontaine: The Tortoise; The Bat (Wright)

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




The Tortoise and the Two Ducks 

A light-brained tortoise, anciently,
Tired of her hole, the world would see:
Prone are all such, self-banished, to roam —
Prone are all cripples to abhor their home.

Two ducks, to whom the gossip told
The secret of her purpose bold,
Professed to have the means whereby
They could her wishes gratify.

"Our boundless road," said they, "behold!
It is the open air,
And through it we will bear
You safe over land and ocean:
Republics, kingdoms, you will view,
And famous cities, old and new;
And get of customs, laws, a notion —
Of various wisdom various pieces,
As did, indeed, the sage Ulysses."

The eager tortoise waited not
To question what Ulysses got,
But closed the bargain on the spot.

A nice machine the birds devise
To bear their pilgrim through the skies —
Athwart her mouth a stick they throw:
"Now bite it hard, and don't let go,"
They say, and seize each duck an end,
And, swiftly flying, upward tend.

It made the people gape and stare
Beyond the expressive power of words,
To see a tortoise cut the air,
Exactly poised between two birds:
"A miracle," they cried, "is seen!
There goes the flying tortoise queen!"

"The queen!" ('twas thus the tortoise spoke;)
"I'm truly that, without a joke."

Much better had she held her tongue
For, opening that whereby she clung,
Before the gazing crowd she fell,
And dashed to bits her brittle shell:
Imprudence, vanity, and babble,
And idle curiosity,
An ever-undivided rabble,
Have all the same paternity.


The Bat and the Two Weasels 

A blundering bat once stuck her head
Into a wakeful weasel's bed,
Whereat the mistress of the house,
A deadly foe of rats and mice,
Was making ready in a trice
To eat the stranger as a mouse.

"What! do you dare," she said, "to creep in
The very bed I sometimes sleep in,
Now, after all the provocation
I have suffered from your thievish nation?
Are you not really a mouse,
That gnawing pest of every house,
Your special aim to do the cheese ill?
Ay, that you are, or I'm no weasel."

"I beg your pardon," said the bat;
"My kind is very far from that.
What! I a mouse! Who told you such a lie?
Why, ma'am, I am a bird;
And, if you doubt my word,
Just see the wings with which I fly.
Long live the mice that cleave the sky!"

These reasons had so fair a show,
The weasel let the creature go.

By some strange fancy led,
The same wise blunderhead,
But two or three days later,
Had chosen for her rest
Another weasel's nest,
This last, of birds a special hater:
New peril brought this step absurd;
Without a moment's thought or puzzle,
Dame weasel oped her peaked muzzle
To eat the intruder as a bird.

"Hold! do not wrong me," cried the bat;
"I'm truly no such thing as that.
Your eyesight strange conclusions gathers.
What makes a bird, I pray? Its feathers.
I'm cousin of the mice and rats.
Great Jupiter confound the cats!"

The bat, by such adroit replying,
Twice saved herself from dying:
And many a human stranger
Thus turns his coat in danger,
And sings, as suits, wherever he goes,
"God save the king!" — or "save his foes!'


(500 words)

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