HomeJean de La FontaineTHE MILLER, HIS SON, AND THE ASS

THE MILLER, HIS SON, AND THE ASS. Jean de La Fontaine

The Arts are birthrights; true, and being so,
The fable to the ancient Greeks we owe;
But still the field can ne′er be reaped so clean
As not to let the later comers glean.
The world of fiction′s full of deserts bare,
Yet still our authors make discoveries there.
Let me repeat a story, good, though old,
That Malherbe to Racan, ′tis rumoured, told;
Rivals of Horace, heirs in every way,
Apollo′s sons, our masters, I should say:
They met one time in friendly solitude,
Unbosoming those cares that will obtrude.
Racan commences thus,—"Tell me, my friend,
You, who the clue of life, from end to end,
Know well, and step by step, and stage by stage,
Have lost no one experience of age;
How shall I settle? I must choose my station.
You know my fortune, birth, and education.
Shall I the provinces make my resort,
Carry the colours, or push on at court?
The world has bitterness, and it has charms,
War has its sweets, and marriage its alarms:
Easy to follow one′s own natural bent,
But I′ve both court and people to content."
"Please everybody!"  Malherbe says, with crafty eye,
"Now hear my story ere you make reply.
I′ve somewhere read, a Miller and his Son,
One just through life, the other scarce begun
(Boy of fifteen, if I remember well),
Went one fair day a favourite Ass to sell;
To take him fresh—according to wise rules—
They tied his feet and swung him—the two fools—
They carried him just like a chandelier.
Poor simple rustics (idiots, I fear),
The first who met them gave a loud guffaw,
And asked what clumsy farce it was he saw.
′The greatest ass is not the one who walks,′
So sneeringly the passing horseman talks.
The Miller frees the beast, by this convinced.
The discontented creature brayed and winced
In its own patois; for the change was bad:
Then the good Miller mounted the poor lad.
As he limped after, there came by that way
Three honest merchants, who reviling say,
′Dismount! why, that won′t do, you lazy lad;
Give up the saddle to your grey-haired dad;
You go behind, and let your father ride.′
′Yes, masters,′ said the Miller, ′you decide
Quite right; both ways I am content.′
He took his seat, and then away they went.
Three girls next passed: ′Oh, what a shame!′ says one,
′A father treating like a slave his son!
The churl rides like a bishop′s calf. ′Not I,′
The Miller made the girls a sharp reply:
′Too old for veal, you hussies, and ill-famed.′
Still with such jesting he became ashamed,
Thought he′d done wrong; and changing his weak mind,

Took up his son upon the croup behind.
But three yards more, a third, sour, carping set,
Began to cavil,—′Biggest fools we′ve met!
The beast is done—he′ll die beneath their blows.
What! load a poor old servant!′ so it grows:
′They′ll go to market, and they′ll sell his skin.′
′Parbleu!′ the Miller said, ′not worth a pin
The fellow′s brains who tries with toil and strife
To please the world, his neighbour, and his wife.
But still we′ll have a try as we′ve begun:′
So off the Ass they jumped, himself and son.
The Ass in state goes first, and then came they.
A quidnunc met them—What! is that the way?
The Ass at ease, the Miller quite foot-sore!
That seems an Ass that′s greatly held in store.
Set him in gold—frame him—now, by the mass,
Wear out one′s shoes, to save a paltry Ass!
Not so went Nicolas his Jeanne to woo;
The song says that he rode to save his shoe.
There go three asses.′ ′Right,′ the Miller cries;
′I am an Ass, it′s true, and you are wise;
But henceforth I don′t care, so let them blame
Or praise, no matter, it shall be the same;
Let them be quiet, pshaw! or let them tell,
I′ll go my own way now;′" and he did well.

Then follow Mars, or Cupid, or the Court,
Walk, sit, or run, in town or country sport,
Marry or take the cowl, empty or fill the bag,
Still never doubt the babbling tongues will wag.


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