HomeJean de La FontaineTHE LION, THE APE, AND THE TWO ASSES

THE LION, THE APE, AND THE TWO ASSES. Jean de La Fontaine

A young King Lion, desirous to shape
By morality′s laws his government,
On one fine morning, prudently sent
For that clever old master of arts, the Ape;
And the statesman, consulted, sagely replied,
"O King, hold this maxim as your very best guide—
Let your own self-will to the good of the state
Be in all cases subordinate;
For ′tis simply neglect of this wholesome rule
That so oft makes us animals play the fool.
It is not in one day, or even in two,
That this evil self-love you′ll contrive to subdue;
But should you succeed, oh, my monarch august,
You will never be foolish, and seldom unjust."
"Give me examples," replied the King,
"Of both the one and the other thing."
"Each species has its vanity,"
The Ape said very seriously;
"As, for instance, my own; for the lawyers call
All but themselves, mean, base, and small.
But, on the other hand, self-esteem
Leads us to laud our deeds to the sky,
As, by doing this, we fondly deem
That our own position is raised as high.
And now I deduce, from what I have said,
That much so-called talent is mere grimace—
A trick which, as wise men know, has led
Many an idiot to power and place.

"Whilst following close, but the other day,
The steps of two Asses, who foolishly
Fed each other with flattery,
I heard the one to the other say,
Is it not, sir, a shame and disgrace
That the tribe of mankind, that perfect race,
Should profane our dignified name, by denoting
As asses all those that are stupid or doting?
And even has ventured such lengths as to say,
That, when mortals speak nonsense, they utter a bray!
′Tis pleasant, forsooth, to perceive how mankind
Dream they′re above us, and yet are so blind.
No, no, let their orators silent remain,
For they are the brayers, and fools in grain;
But with man let us cease one another to bother:
′Tis enough that we quite comprehend one another.
I will only here add that you have but to speak,
To make larks seem hoarse, and the blackbird to squeak.′
′These qualities, sir,′ then the other replied,
′In yourself, in the fullest perfection, reside.′
And, having thus spattered each other with praise,
They trot far and wide to repeat the same craze;
Each fondly in hope, like a couple of crows,
That a caw shall come back for the caw he bestows.
But this trait is not asinine only, I own,
For I myself many great people have known
Who would gladly, instead of my-lording each other,
Have said, each to each, ′My Imperial Brother!′
But I′ve spoken too long, and will only request
That this secret be hid in your Majesty′s breast:
Since your Majesty wished me some trait to divulge,
Which would show him how those who in self-love indulge
Become objects of scorn; it would take me too long
To show also, now, how it leads to worse wrong."
Thus spoke the Monkey false by nature;
But it has still in doubt remained
If he the other point explained;
Your Monkey is a knowing creature,
And knows it is not fortunate
To be too truthful with the great.

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