The Bear And The Amateur Gardener.

A poem by Jean de La Fontaine

[1]

A certain mountain bear, unlick'd and rude,
By fate confined within a lonely wood,
A new Bellerophon,[2] whose life,
Knew neither comrade, friend, nor wife, -
Became insane; for reason, as we term it,
Dwells never long with any hermit.
'Tis good to mix in good society,
Obeying rules of due propriety;
And better yet to be alone;
But both are ills when overdone.
No animal had business where
All grimly dwelt our hermit bear;
Hence, bearish as he was, he grew
Heart-sick, and long'd for something new.
While he to sadness was addicted,
An aged man, not far from there,
Was by the same disease afflicted.
A garden was his favourite care, -
Sweet Flora's priesthood, light and fair,
And eke Pomona's - ripe and red
The presents that her fingers shed.
These two employments, true, are sweet
When made so by some friend discreet.
The gardens, gaily as they look,
Talk not, (except in this my book;)
So, tiring of the deaf and dumb,
Our man one morning left his home
Some company to seek,
That had the power to speak. -
The bear, with thoughts the same,
Down from his mountain came;
And in a solitary place,
They met each other, face to face.
It would have made the boldest tremble;
What did our man? To play the Gascon
The safest seem'd. He put the mask on,
His fear contriving to dissemble.
The bear, unused to compliment,
Growl'd bluntly, but with good intent,
'Come home with me.' The man replied:
'Sir Bear, my lodgings, nearer by,
In yonder garden you may spy,
Where, if you'll honour me the while,
We'll break our fast in rural style.
I've fruits and milk, - unworthy fare,
It may be, for a wealthy bear;
But then I offer what I have.'
The bear accepts, with visage grave,
But not unpleased; and on their way,
They grow familiar, friendly, gay.
Arrived, you see them, side by side,
As if their friendship had been tried.
To a companion so absurd,
Blank solitude were well preferr'd,
Yet, as the bear scarce spoke a word,
The man was left quite at his leisure
To trim his garden at his pleasure.
Sir Bruin hunted - always brought
His friend whatever game he caught;
But chiefly aim'd at driving flies -
Those hold and shameless parasites,
That vex us with their ceaseless bites -
From off our gardener's face and eyes.
One day, while, stretch'd upon the ground
The old man lay, in sleep profound,
A fly that buzz'd around his nose, -
And bit it sometimes, I suppose, -
Put Bruin sadly to his trumps.
At last, determined, up he jumps;
'I'll stop thy noisy buzzing now,'
Says he; 'I know precisely how.'
No sooner said than done.
He seized a paving-stone;
And by his modus operandi
Did both the fly and man die.

A foolish friend may cause more woe
Than could, indeed, the wisest foe.

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