The Members And The Belly.

A poem by Jean de La Fontaine

[1]

Perhaps, had I but shown due loyalty,
This book would have begun with royalty,
Of which, in certain points of view,
Boss[2] Belly is the image true,
In whose bereavements all the members share:
Of whom the latter once so weary were,
As all due service to forbear,
On what they called his idle plan,
Resolved to play the gentleman,
And let his lordship live on air.
'Like burden-beasts,' said they,
'We sweat from day to day;
And all for whom, and what?
Ourselves we profit not.
Our labour has no object but one,
That is, to feed this lazy glutton.
We'll learn the resting trade
By his example's aid.'
So said, so done; all labour ceased;
The hands refused to grasp, the arms to strike;
All other members did the like.
Their boss might labour if he pleased!
It was an error which they soon repented,
With pain of languid poverty acquainted.
The heart no more the blood renew'd,
And hence repair no more accrued
To ever-wasting strength;
Whereby the mutineers, at length,
Saw that the idle belly, in its way,
Did more for common benefit than they.

For royalty our fable makes,
A thing that gives as well as takes
Its power all labour to sustain,
Nor for themselves turns out their labour vain.
It gives the artist bread, the merchant riches;
Maintains the diggers in their ditches;
Pays man of war and magistrate;
Supports the swarms in place,
That live on sovereign grace;
In short, is caterer for the state.

Menenius[3] told the story well:
When Rome, of old, in pieces fell,
The commons parting from the senate.
'The ills,' said they, 'that we complain at
Are, that the honours, treasures, power, and dignity,
Belong to them alone; while we
Get nought our labour for
But tributes, taxes, and fatigues of war.'
Without the walls the people had their stand
Prepared to march in search of other land,
When by this noted fable
Menenius was able
To draw them, hungry, home
To duty and to Rome.[4]

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