HomeJean de La FontaineTHE ENGLISH FOX

THE ENGLISH FOX. Jean de La Fontaine

A good heart is in you with sense allied,
And scores of other qualities, well tried;
A nobleness of soul and mind, to guide
Both men and things; a temper frank and free.
In friendship firm, though tempests there may be.
All this deserves, we know, a pompous praise:
But pomp displeases you; so I′ll not raise
My voice, but simple be, and brief. I would
Insert a word of flattery, if I could,
About the country that you love so dear.
The English are profound: in this their mind
Follows their temperament, as oft we find.
Deep, deep they dig for truth, and without end
The empire of the sciences extend.
I write not this to win good will from you;
Your nation are deep searchers, it is true.
Even your dogs, they say, have keener scent than ours;
Your foxes are of craftier mental powers:
I′ll prove it, by an artful stratagem,
The most ingenious ever planned by them.
A wicked Reynard, chased quite out of breath
By the untiring dogs, and dreading death,
Saw a tall gallows, where dead badgers hung,
And owls and foxes were together strung—
Cruel examples for the passer-by!
Reynard in ambuscade prepared to lie,
Like Hannibal, who, when the Romans chased,
Baffled their armies, and their spies disgraced.
Old Fox this was! his enemies soon ran
To where he lay for dead. The barking clan
Filled all the air with clamour long and loud.
The master whipped away the noisy crowd:
The trick deceived him. "Come, you dogs!" he cried,
"Some puppy′s saved the rascal, who ne′er tried
To climb the gibbet where such honest folk
Repose. Some day, he′ll find the gallows a rough joke,
Much to his loss." And, while the dogs give tongue,
Back to his larder goes the Fox just hung.
Another day he′ll try the self-same plan,
And leave his brush and four paws with the man.
Tricks won′t do twice. The hunter ne′er had thought
Of such a scheme, had he been nearly caught,
Not from the want of wit, at all, you see,
For who can say the English want esprit?
But their contempt for life has often led
To evil in such dangers, it is said.

And now I once more turn to you,—
Not for more flattery. ′Tis true
All long eulogium does but tire:
I, a poor player on the lyre,
With flattering songs, and little verse,
Amuse the mighty universe,
Or win a distant nation′s praise.
Your Prince once said, in former days,
He valued very far above
All studied praise one word of love.
Accept the humble gift I bring,
Last efforts that I mean to sing:
But poor indeed, and all unformed,
Yet were they by new fervour warmed,
Could you but make this homage known
To her who fills your country′s zone
With sprites from Cytherea′s isle;
I speak (you know it by your smile)
Of Mazarin, Jove dear to thee,
And Cupid′s sovereign deity.

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