The Old Man And His Sons.

A poem by Jean de La Fontaine

[1]

All power is feeble with dissension:
For this I quote the Phrygian slave.[2]
If aught I add to his invention,
It is our manners to engrave,
And not from any envious wishes; -
I'm not so foolishly ambitious.
Phaedrus enriches oft his story,
In quest - I doubt it not - of glory:
Such thoughts were idle in my breast.
An aged man, near going to his rest,
His gather'd sons thus solemnly address'd: -
'To break this bunch of arrows you may try;
And, first, the string that binds them I untie.'
The eldest, having tried with might and main,
Exclaim'd, 'This bundle I resign
To muscles sturdier than mine.'
The second tried, and bow'd himself in vain.
The youngest took them with the like success.
All were obliged their weakness to confess.
Unharm'd the arrows pass'd from son to son;
Of all they did not break a single one.
'Weak fellows!' said their sire, 'I now must show
What in the case my feeble strength can do.'
They laugh'd, and thought their father but in joke,
Till, one by one, they saw the arrows broke.
'See, concord's power!' replied the sire; 'as long
As you in love agree, you will be strong.
I go, my sons, to join our fathers good;
Now promise me to live as brothers should,
And soothe by this your dying father's fears.'
Each strictly promised with a flood of tears.
Their father took them by the hand, and died;
And soon the virtue of their vows was tried.
Their sire had left a large estate
Involved in lawsuits intricate;
Here seized a creditor, and there
A neighbour levied for a share.
At first the trio nobly bore
The brunt of all this legal war.
But short their friendship as 'twas rare.
Whom blood had join'd - and small the wonder! -
The force of interest drove asunder;
And, as is wont in such affairs,
Ambition, envy, were co-heirs.
In parcelling their sire's estate,
They quarrel, quibble, litigate,
Each aiming to supplant the other.
The judge, by turns, condemns each brother.
Their creditors make new assault,
Some pleading error, some default.
The sunder'd brothers disagree;
For counsel one, have counsels three.
All lose their wealth; and now their sorrows
Bring fresh to mind those broken arrows.

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