HomeJean de La FontaineTHE CROW, THE GAZELLE, THE TORTOISE, AND THE RAT

THE CROW, THE GAZELLE, THE TORTOISE, AND THE RAT. Jean de La Fontaine

I, by means of verse, would raise
A temple to your lasting praise.
Already its foundations lie
Based on that art which comes from high,
And on the name of her whose fame
Adoring clouds shall there proclaim.
I′d write above its portal-stones,
"This fane the goddess Iris owns;"
But not the Iris who for Juno
Goes out with messages, as you know;
A different Iris, whom the lord
Of gods, and Juno, too, were glad
To serve, if they her summons had,
When she such honour would accord.
Th′ Apotheosis placed on high
Should show the people of the sky
My Iris to a throne conducting,—
A throne of sunlight′s sole constructing.
In frescoes, on the panels placed,
Should all her life′s sweet tale be traced;
A charming story, and one far
Remote from all the tales of war.
Deep in the Temple′s chief recess
A painting should in part express
Her form, her features, her bright smiles,
And all the thousand artless wiles
By which she gods and men beguiles.
Low at her feet should there be shown
All the great men the world may own,
Great demi-gods besides, and even
The natural habitants of heaven;
For certain ′tis that they to whom
Men pray, to Iris burn perfume.
The artist′s care should chiefly be
To make her eyes her soul express.
But, ah! to paint her tenderness
′Twere all in vain to try; may be
No art upon the earth resides
Which for a task like this provides,
To paint a soul in which combine
Man′s strength with graces feminine.
O Iris! you who charm us all,
Before whose heavenly grace we fall,
You whom before ourselves we prize
(But, mind, I am not making love,
For love′s a word you don′t approve),
Yet even from this rough sketch may
A better likeness rise, some day.
The project of your sacred building
I′ve just for artist-purpose filled in
The foreground of a story which
Is so with rare-found friendship rich,
That, haply, it may favour find
With one that is so good and kind.
Of friendship monarchs seldom dream
But he who gains your heart′s esteem
Is not a king devoid of love;
No, he your gentle thoughts approve
Is a brave mortal, who would give
His life, that some dear friend might live.

A Rat, a Gazelle, and a Tortoise and Crow
Lived together as friends, in a desolate place;
And, as they took care to indulge in no show,
Man failed for some time the companions to trace.
But, alas! for poor beasts there′s no safety from man,
Whatever concealment their instincts may plan;
To the heart of the desert, the depths of the sea,
Or to heaven′s own vault, ′tis in vain that they flee.
The Gazelle, one sad day, was at innocent play,
When a dog—cruel dogs! whom the men treat as brothers,
Though beasts, to assist them to capture the others—
Unluckily snuffed at her scent, and, pursuing,
Led on his fierce master, to cause her undoing.
When dinner came that day, the Rat
Said, "What can Miss Gazelle be at?
She surely dreads some new attacks,
Or else our friendship′s bonds relax!"
"Ah!" then the Tortoise, sighing, cried,
"If Heaven wings would but provide,
Such as our Crow has, I would fly,
And all around the country spy,
To find what accidents withhold
Our friend. Her heart′s as good as gold."
The Crow, without a word, took flight,
And soon had poor Gazelle in sight,
Tied up with cords against a tree,
A hapless piece of misery.
At once the Crow, without a pause,
Flies back, nor seeks to probe the cause,
The whys, the wherefores, or the when
Which make Gazelles the prey of men.
Nor loses time, for action meant,
In a pedantic argument.
The Crow′s report was duly heard,
And then the Crow a vote preferred
That two should speed, without delay,
To where their friend in bondage lay,
But that the Tortoise, lying still,
Should serve the counter,—guard the till;
For, whilst the Tortoise′ step is slow,
Gazelles die quickly, as we know.
The words were scarcely said, when forth
The angry Crow and Rat went north,
To where their dark-eyed, dear Gazelle
Lay, victim of man′s purpose fell.
The Tortoise, also, not behind-hand
To lend to any one a kind hand,
Toiled thither, also, grimly swearing
That he his house must still be bearing.
Arrived at the place where the Deer was confined,
Sir Gnaw-net (the Rat is so properly named)
At once set his teeth the hard cordage to grind,
And in less than two minutes the friend was reclaimed
The hunter coming up just then,
Cursed like a thousand sporting men;
And Master Rat, with prudence fraught,
A cozy hole directly sought,
Whilst Crow swam safely up to tree,
And dear Gazelle in woods ran free.
Just then the hunter, in a state
Of hunger most disconsolate,
Perceived the Tortoise on his path,
And, thereupon, subdued his wrath.
"Why should I," said he, "vex myself?
This beast will grace my supper-shelf."
And thus the hapless Tortoise soon
Had been condemned to knife and spoon,
Had not the Crow the dear Gazelle
Taught how to act the lame man well.
The timid deer, with halting feet,
Went forth, the hunter′s eyes to meet.
The man threw off, without delay,
All that his eager steps might stay—
The Tortoise, with some other things.
Of course the Rat undid the strings
That held the bag where Tortoise lay,
And all four friends got safe away!

′Tis Pilpay that has told this tale;
And if upon the god of song
I chose to call, I might prolong
This quadrupedal history,
And write another Odyssey.
And if, to please you, I should take
This work upon me, I should make
The Rat the hero; yet, ′tis true
That each had work, and did it, too.
The Tortoise, though with mansion weighted,
The case in point so clearly stated,
That Master Crow at once took wing,
To spy the land, and message bring;
Whilst dear Gazelle, with female cunning,
Before the hunter lamely running,
Gave to Sir Gnaw-cord time to bite
The strings which held the Tortoise tight.
So each one, in his several way,
Fought a good fight, and won the day.
On whom shall we the prize bestow?
On the good heart, as you′ll allow.
What will not friendship dare for those
On whom its gentle tendrils close?
That other feeling, love, is not,
Compared with friendship, worth a jot;
Although, to tell the truth, its pains
Distract my heart, and fill my strains.
It is Love′s gentle sister you
Protect, and I′ll adore her, too;
And, blending Friendship with your name,
Throughout the world her joys proclaim.

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