HomeJean de La FontaineTHE MERCHANT, THE NOBLEMAN, THE SHEPHERD, AND THE KING′S SON

THE MERCHANT, THE NOBLEMAN, THE SHEPHERD, AND THE KING′S SON. Jean de La Fontaine

A Merchant, Shepherd, Lord, and a King′s Son,
Adventuring to a distant land,
By waves and shipwrecks utterly undone,
Found themselves beggars on a foreign strand.
It matters not to tell at large
What chance had joined them in an equal fate;
But, one day, sitting on a fountain′s marge,
They counsel took, disconsolate.
The Prince confessed, with many a bitter sigh,
The ills that fall on those who sit on high.
The Shepherd thought it best to throw
All thoughts of former ills afar;—
"Laments," he said, "no medicines are;
So let us use the arts we know,
And work, and earn the means to take us back to Rome."
But what is this? Can prudent language come
From Shepherd′s mouth? and is it not, then, true
That they alone are wise whose blood is blue?
Surely sheep and shepherd are,
As far as thought goes, on a par?
However, wrecked on shores American,
Without a choice, the three approved this plan.
The Merchant cried that they should keep a school;
Himself arithmetic would teach by rule,
For monthly pay. "And I," the Prince exclaimed,
"Will teach how proper laws for states are framed."
The Noble said, "And I intend to try
For pupils in the art of Heraldry."—
As though such wretched stuff could have
A home beyond the Atlantic wave!
Then cried the Shepherd, "Worth all praise
Are your intentions; but, remark, the week
Has many days. Now, where a meal to seek
I am somewhat in the dark.
Your prospects of success are good,
But I am pining, now, for food;
Tell me therefore, comrades, pray,
Whence comes to-morrow′s meal, and whence the meal
to-day?
You seem in your resources rich;
But food to day′s a subject which
So presses, that I really must
Decline to put in you my trust."
This said, the Shepherd in a neighbouring wood
Collected fagots, which he sold for food,
And shared it kindly with his clever friends,
Before their talents had attained their ends,
Or, by long fasting, they were forced to go
And air their talents in the world below.
From this adventure we, I think, may learn
That for life′s daily needs much learning is not wanted;
But that to every man the power to earn
Food by his labour has been freely granted.


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