HomeJean de La FontaineTHE HAWK, THE KING, AND THE FALCON

THE HAWK, THE KING, AND THE FALCON. Jean de La Fontaine

As the gods are forgiving, they wish that the lords
Whom they send to rule over us creatures below,
Should control the proud use of their conquering swords,
And to subjects the mercies of charity show.
O Prince! ′tis well known that you think in this way
That you conquer your foes, but still pause ere you slay;
And in this, for you′re one who no passions subdue,
Achilles, as hero, was far beneath you.
This title of hero, in fact, should belong
But to those who do good. This was always the case
In the ages of gold; but now absence from wrong
Of a very grave character gives men the place.
So far are you, Prince, from deserving this stain,
That for half your good actions you merit a fane.
Apollo, the poet, who dwells in the skies,
Sings already the praise of your name, ′tis believed;
Fast in heaven the walls of your mansion arise,
For of glory enough on the earth you′ve received.
May the sweetest of charms that god Hymen can give,
For you and the Princess, eternally live:
For you fully deserve it; in token of this
I will point to your gifts, both of riches and bliss.
To those qualities wondrous, which, owned but by few,
To grace your young years, Jove has lavished on you.
Your spirit, O Prince! with such grace is combined,
That which most to prize a sweet puzzle we find;
For, sometimes, esteem takes our homage by force,
And then love leaps in with impetuous course.
But to sing all your praises and merits were long;
So changing my key, in a far humbler song
I′ll tell you a tale, how a fierce bird of prey
Assaulted a king, and got safely away.
′Tis seldom falconers contrive
To take a new-fledged Hawk alive;
But one so taken, to a King
Was made a humble offering.
The bird, if true the story be,
No sooner saw his Majesty,
Than straight the Royal nose he clawed,
And then the Royal forehead gnawed.
"What! clutch a mighty monarch′s nose?
He wore no crown, then, I suppose?"
Had he wore crown and sceptre, too,
′Twere all the same, the creature flew,
And King′s nose clawed, like common nose.
Of course, an uproar loud arose,
Such as my verse could scarce describe,
From all the startled courtier tribe.
The King alone was calm and cool:
For calmness is with kings a rule.
The bird kept his place, and could not be persuaded
To vacate the strange throne he′d so roughly invaded.
His master, in vain, with threats and with cries,
Showed him his fist, but he would not rise.
And it seemed, at length, as though the bird—
Insolent creature!—would cling to that feature
Until the next morning′s chimes were heard.
The greater the efforts to make him let go,
The deeper he dug in each keen-pointed toe.
At length he relaxed, of his own fickle will;
Then the King said to those round about, "Do not kill
The poor bird, nor the falconer trouble, for each, in
His several way, has obeyed Nature′s teaching:—
The one has just proved himself falconer good,
And the other a real savage thing of the wood.
And I, knowing well that kings clement should be,
Grant both full pardon: so let them go free."
Of course, the courtiers all declared
That such great mercy ne′er was shown;
And had the trouble been their own,
Nor man nor bird would have been spared.
Few kings indeed had acted so,
And let the woodman freely go.
They ′scaped right well; but boor and bird
In nothing in this matter erred,
But only this, that, woodland-bred,
They had not learnt enough to dread
The neighbourhood of courts; but this small lapse
May be excused in such poor folk, perhaps.
The following story Pilpay places
Where Ganges nourishes dusk races;
Where man ne′er dares to spill the blood
Of any living thing for food;
"For how can we tell," they say, "that
This creature was not present at
The siege of Troy—a hero, then—
And that he′ll not be so again?
For we Pythagoreans are,
And think that different forms we bear
At different seasons—pigeon now,
And then a hawk, and next a cow.
At present we are men; and so
Through every change of form we go."

The tale of that bold bird who clutched the King
Is told two ways. The second now I′ll sing.
A woodman that, by luck or wit,
A Hawk had seized, went off with it,
To lay it at his monarch′s feet.
Such captures we but seldom meet—
Once in a hundred years; indeed,
′Tis written in the falconer′s creed
That woodman who a Hawk can catch
In nest, is any woodman′s match.
Through all the crowd of courtiers, then,
Our huntsman, happiest of men,
Thrust with his prize, at last secure
His fortune now was firm and sure.
But, just as he had reached the throne,
Seized with a rage before unknown,
The savage bird, untamed as yet,
In spite of chained foot, turned and set
His claws deep in his master′s nose.
All laughed, as you may well suppose—
The courtiers and the monarch, too;
Such very comic sight to view,
I′d give a crown, though it were new.
If Popes may laugh, I′m not quite sure
But kings could not their lives endure,
If they might laugh not—′tis divine;
And Jove, though mostly saturnine,
With all his comrades, laughs, at times,
Enough to shake these earthly climes.
And Jove laughed loudest when, I think,
Poor hobbling Vulcan gave him drink.
Whether or no, ′tis well arranged
That gods should laugh, my subject′s changed,
With reason; for ′tis time to ask
What moral lies beneath the mask
Of falconer unfortunate?
This simple lesson I will state:—
To every land each cycle brings
More foolish woodmen than good kings.

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