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THE COURT OF THE LION. Jean de La Fontaine

THE COURT OF THE LION. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

THE COURT OF THE LION. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

His Majesty Leo, in order to find
The extent of his varied and ample dominions,
Had summoned his vassals of every kind,
Of all colours and shapes, and of divers opinions.
A circular, signed by His Majesty′s hand.
Was the means of conveying the King′s invitation—
He promised festivities regally grand
(With an evident eye to self-glorification).
His palace was open, of course, to the throng;
What a place!—a mere slaughter-house, putting it plainly,
Where visitors met with an odour so strong,
That they strove to protect their olfactories vainly.
The Bear in disgust put a paw to his nose;
He had scarcely the time to repent his grimaces;
For Leo at once in a fury arose,
And consigned the poor brute to the Styx, to make faces.
The Monkey, true courtier, approved of the deed—
Said the palace was fit for a king′s habitation,
And thought neither amber nor musk could exceed
The rich odour that gave him such gratification.
His fulsome behaviour had little success;
He was treated the same as the previous aspirant
(His Leonine Majesty, let us confess,
Was Caligula-like, and a bit of a tyrant).
The Fox trotted up, very servile and sly;
Said the monarch, "No shuffling, but answer me frankly;
Beware how you venture to give your reply:
Do you notice that anything smells rather rankly?"
But Reynard was more than a match for his king,
And replied that his cold being rather a bad one,
He could not at present distinguish a thing
By its odour, or even assert that it had one.
There′s a hint for plain-speakers and flatterers here—
You should ne′er be too servile nor over-sincere;
And to answer sometimes in a round-about way,
Is a dozen times better than plain yea or nay.

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