The Funeral Of The Lioness.

A poem by Jean de La Fontaine

[1]

The lion's consort died:
Crowds, gather'd at his side,
Must needs console the prince,
And thus their loyalty evince
By compliments of course;
Which make affliction worse.
Officially he cites
His realm to funeral rites,
At such a time and place;
His marshals of the mace
Would order the affair.
Judge you if all came there.
Meantime, the prince gave way
To sorrow night and day.
With cries of wild lament
His cave he well-nigh rent.
And from his courtiers far and near,
Sounds imitative you might hear.

The court a country seems to me,
Whose people are, no matter what, -
Sad, gay, indifferent, or not, -
As suits the will of majesty;
Or, if unable so to be,
Their task it is to seem it all -
Chameleons, monkeys, great and small.
'Twould seem one spirit serves a thousand bodies -
A paradise, indeed, for soulless noddies.

But to our tale again:
The stag graced not the funeral train;
Of tears his cheeks bore not a stain;
For how could such a thing have been,
When death avenged him on the queen,
Who, not content with taking one,
Had choked to death his wife and son?
The tears, in truth, refused to run.
A flatterer, who watch'd the while,
Affirm'd that he had seen him smile.
If, as the wise man somewhere saith,
A king's is like a lion's wrath,
What should King Lion's be but death?
The stag, however, could not read;
Hence paid this proverb little heed,
And walk'd, intrepid, to'ards the throne;
When thus the king, in fearful tone:
'Thou caitiff of the wood!
Presum'st to laugh at such a time?
Joins not thy voice the mournful chime?
We suffer not the blood
Of such a wretch profane
Our sacred claws to stain.
Wolves, let a sacrifice be made,
Avenge your mistress' awful shade.'
'Sire,' did the stag reply,
The time for tears is quite gone by;
For in the flowers, not far from here,
Your worthy consort did appear;
Her form, in spite of my surprise,
I could not fail to recognise.
"My friend," said she, "beware
Lest funeral pomp about my bier,
When I shall go with gods to share,
Compel thine eye to drop a tear.
With kindred saints I rove
In the Elysian grove,
And taste a sort of bliss
Unknown in worlds like this.
Still, let the royal sorrow flow
Its proper season here below;
'Tis not unpleasing, I confess."'
The king and court scarce hear him out.
Up goes the loud and welcome shout -
'A miracle! an apotheosis!'
And such at once the fashion is,
So far from dying in a ditch,
The stag retires with presents rich.

Amuse the ear of royalty
With pleasant dreams, and flattery, -
No matter what you may have done,
Nor yet how high its wrath may run, -
The bait is swallow'd - object won.

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