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THE OLD MAN AND THE THREE YOUNG MEN. Jean de La Fontaine

An Old Man, planting a tree, was met
By three joyous youths of the village near,
Who cried, "It is dotage a tree to set
At your years, sir, for it will not bear,
Unless you reach Methuselah′s age:
To build a tomb were much more sage;
But why, in any case, burden your days
With care for other people′s enjoyment?
′Tis for you to repent of your evil ways:
To care for the future is our employment!"
Then the aged man replies—

"All slowly grows, but quickly dies.
It matters not if then or now
You die or I; we all must bow,
Soon, soon, before the destinies.
And tell me which of you, I pray,
Is sure to see another day?
Or whether e′en the youngest shall
Survive this moment′s interval?
My great grandchildren, ages hence,
Shall bless this tree′s benevolence.
And if you seek to make it plain
That pleasing others is no gain,
I, for my part, truly say
I taste this tree′s ripe fruit to-day,
And hope to do so often yet.
Nor should I be surprised to see—
Though, truly, with sincere regret—
The sunrise gild your tombstones three."
These words were stern but bitter truths:
For one of these adventurous youths,
Intent to seek a distant land,
Was drowned, just as he left the strand;
The second, filled with martial zeal,
Bore weapons for the common weal,
And in a battle met the lot
Of falling by a random shot.
The third one from a tree-top fell,
And broke his neck.—The Old Sage, then,
Weeping for the three Young Men,
Upon their tomb wrote what I tell.


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