THE SHEPHERD AND THE KING. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

THE SHEPHERD AND THE KING. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

Our lives are spoiled by demons twain;
Turn in, turn out; by each, in season;
By each with reckless force is slain
That which we mortals call our reason.
And if you ask their name and state,
I′ll name god Love, the potentate,
For one; and for the other,
I′ll name Ambition, Love′s half-brother,
Who, not seldom, Love defeats,
And reigns within his choicest seats,
All this I soon could prove; but now
That which I wish to tell is how
A Shepherd by a King was sent for,
And what this royal deed was meant for.
The tale belongs to distant ages,
And not to those which fill these pages.
A numerous flock that filled the plain,
And brought the owner heaps of gain,
Through Shepherd′s care and industry,
Once met a sapient′s Monarch′s eye.
Pleased with such skill and thrift, he said,
"Good Shepherd, to rule men thou′rt bred;
Leave now thy sheep. Come, follow me;
Accept my widest satrapy.
And so our Shepherd, who before
Had scarce had friend but hermit poor,
And very seldom had in view
Aught but his sheep and wolf or two,
Was with a viceroy′s sceptre graced;
Nor was he by this change misplaced,
For Nature had endowed his mind
With funds of great good sense;
And how to govern human kind
He amply learned from thence.

Ere many days had passed away,
His former friend, the hermit,
Came running quickly, crying—-"Say,
′Tis dream-work, or as truth affirm it,
That you are now beloved of kings,
And deal yourself in regal things.
Oh, kings mistrust; their favour goes
Life snow on water; thousand woes
Fall ever on the luckless wight
Who basks a time in kingly might.
You know not to what precipice
You haste. Come back; take my advice."
The other smiled; on which the man
Of sacred life, continuing, said—
"Alas! already I can scan
How far astray your wits have fled;
Your foolish conduct calls to mind
The story of the traveller blind,
Who sees a snake benumbed with cold;
The creature frosts so numb and nip,
He lies like some old leathern whip;
His own just lost, the man takes hold,
And waves the reptile in his joy,
When one who passes by that way
Cries—′Heavens! throw that snake away,
Or quickly ′twill your life destroy.′
′No snake; but a good whip,′ replied the other.
′No whip; but snake,′ replied the stranger;
′And, pray, should I thus make a pother
Unless I saw your woful danger?
And will you really keep that thing,
With fangs so sharp, and deadly sting?′
′Of course, I shall; my whip was lost,
And this will save another′s cost.
You speak from envy—sir, good-bye.′
The snake, now brandished wide and high,
Grew warm and warmer gradually,
And, stinging, caused the fool to die.
But, as for you, my satrap friend,
You hasten to a bitterer end."
"What! worse than death?" the satrap cried.
"Ah! worse than death," the sage replied.
And, in due time, the hermit′s word
Was proved with truth in due accord;
For all the pests that haunt a Court,
By hint and wink, and false report,
Soon made the satrap′s virtuous skill
Seem to his royal master ill.
Cabals arose on every side;
Defeated suitors loudly cried,
"With what belonged to us he built that palace wide."
The Monarch fain would see this wealth,
And thither stole one day by stealth,
But nought within it met his eyes
Save modest mediocrities,
And praises of the joys that lie
In loneliness and poverty.
"His wealth, then," cried the pests, "consists
In diamonds, pearls, and amethysts;
In yonder chest with locks his hoard,
The ransom of a king, is stored!"
The Monarch, with his own white hands,
Undoes the locks and clumsy bands,
Throws back the wooden lid—and mute
Each base calumnious courtier stands;
For in that oaken chest is nought
But cap and jacket, roughly wrought,
A simple cloak, a shepherd′s flute.
"Ah! much-loved treasures;" then exclaims
The Shepherd; "you are dear, indeed,
For never did you rouse the greed
Or malice of my fellow-men,
And you your master now reclaims;
Let′s leave this palace, ne′er again
To enter, save in airy vision.
Monarch! pardon this decision;
When I mounted Fortune′s height,
A fate untimely met my sight;
But who, alas! is quite so wise,
As not sometimes to wish to rise?"

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