HomeJean de La FontaineTHE PEASANT OF THE DANUBE

THE PEASANT OF THE DANUBE. Jean de La Fontaine

To judge by appearances only is wrong,
The maxim is true, if not very new,
And by means of a mouse I have taught it in song;
But to prove it at present I′ll change my note,
And with Æsop and Socrates, also, I′ll quote
A boor whom Marcus Aurelius drew,
And left us a portrait both faithful and true.
The first are old friends; but the other, unknown,
Is sufficiently well in this miniature shown.
His chin was clothed with a mighty beard,
And all his body so thickly furred,
That much he resembled a grizzly bear—
One that had never known mother′s care;

′Neath eyebrows shaggy, two piercing eyes
Glared in a way more fierce than wise;
Whilst ill-shaped lips and a crooked nose,
The sum of his facial beauties close.
A girdle of goat-skin formed his dress,
With small shells studded for comeliness.
This sturdy youth, at a time when Rome
Spoiled many a race of its native home,
Was sent as a sort of deputation,
By Danubian towns, to the Roman nation.
Arriving after toilsome travels,
The rustic thus his tale unravels:
"O Romans! and you, reverend sires,
Who sit to list to my desires,
First, let me pray the gods, that they
May teach me what I ought to say,
And so direct my ignorant tongue,
That it may utter nothing wrong!
Without their intervention must
Be all things evil, all unjust.
Unless through them we plead our cause,
′Tis sure we violate their laws.
In witness of this truth perceive
How Roman avarice makes us grieve;
For ′tis not by its arms that Rome
Has robbed us both of peace and home;
′Tis we ourselves, ill ways pursuing,
Have worked at length our own undoing.
Then, Romans, fear that Heaven, in time,
To you may send the wage of crime,
And justice, in our vengeful hands
Placing its destructive brands,
Hurl swift o′er you the endless waves
Of war, and make you fettered slaves!
Why, why should we be slaves to you?
What is′t that you can better do
Than the poor tribes you scourge with war?
Why trouble lives that tranquil are?
Before you came we fed in peace
Our flocks and reaped our fields′ increase.
What to the Germans have you taught?
Courageous they and quick of thought,
Had avarice been their only aim,
They might have played a different game,
And now have held the world in chains;
But, ah! believe me, they would not
Have scourged your race with needless pains,
Had victory been now their lot.
The cruelties by your prefects wrought
Can scarce be ever borne in thought;
Us e′en your Roman altars scare,
For your gods eyes are everywhere.
The gods, alas! ′Tis thanks to you
That nought but horror meets their view,
That they themselves are scoffed and jeered at,
And all but avarice is sneered at.
Of all the cruel men you sent
To rule our towns, not one′s content.
They seize our lands, they make us toil,
And e′en our little huts they spoil.
Oh, call them back. Our boors refuse
To till the fields for others′ use.
We quit our homes, and to the mountains fly,
No tender wife now bears us company;
With wolves and bears we pass our lives away,
For who would children rear for Rome to slay?
And, oh! the terrors of your prefects bring
One added horror; for a hateful thing,
Unknown before, has now spread far and wide
Throughout our native land—Infanticide!
Call back your men, or else the German race
From day to day in vice will grow apace.
But why should I come here to make appeal?
The self-same vices spoil your commonweal:
At Rome, as on the Danube′s banks, the way
To gain a scrap of justice is to pay.
I know my words are rude, and only wait
Humbly to suffer candour′s usual fate."
The half wild peasant paused, and all,
Astonished that such words could fall
From lips uncouth, and that such sense,
Large-heartedness, and eloquence,
Could dwell within a savage man,
Proclaimed him a Patrician.
The Danube′s prefects were recalled,
And others in their place installed.
And more than this, the Senate made
A copy of the Peasant′s speech,
All future orators to teach
How to tell truth, convince, persuade.
But sad to tell, not long at Rome
Had eloquence like this its home.


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