The Pashaw And The Merchant.

A poem by Jean de La Fontaine

[1]

A trading Greek, for want of law,
Protection bought of a pashaw;
And like a nobleman he paid,
Much rather than a man of trade -
Protection being, Turkish-wise,
A costly sort of merchandise.
So costly was it, in this case,
The Greek complain'd, with tongue and face.
Three other Turks, of lower rank,
Would guard his substance as their own,
And all draw less upon his bank,
Than did the great pashaw alone.
The Greek their offer gladly heard,
And closed the bargain with a word.
The said pashaw was made aware,
And counsel'd, with a prudent care
These rivals to anticipate,
By sending them to heaven's gate,
As messengers to Mahomet -
Which measure should he much delay,
Himself might go the self-same way,
By poison offer'd secretly,
Sent on, before his time, to be
Protector to such arts and trades
As flourish in the world of shades.
On this advice, the Turk - no gander -
Behaved himself like Alexander.[2]
Straight to the merchant's, firm and stable,
He went, and took a seat at table.
Such calm assurance there was seen,
Both in his words and in his mien,
That e'en that weasel-sighted Grecian
Could not suspect him of suspicion.
'My friend,' said he, 'I know you've quit me,
And some think caution would befit me,
Lest to despatch me be your plan:
But, deeming you too good a man
To injure either friends or foes
With poison'd cups or secret blows,
I drown the thought, and say no more.
But, as regards the three or four
Who take my place,
I crave your grace
To listen to an apologue.

'A shepherd, with a single dog,
Was ask'd the reason why
He kept a dog, whose least supply
Amounted to a loaf of bread
For every day. The people said
He'd better give the animal
To guard the village seignior's hall;
For him, a shepherd, it would be
A thriftier economy
To keep small curs, say two or three,
That would not cost him half the food,
And yet for watching be as good.
The fools, perhaps, forgot to tell
If they would fight the wolf as well.
The silly shepherd, giving heed,
Cast off his dog of mastiff breed,
And took three dogs to watch his cattle,
Which ate far less, but fled in battle.
His flock such counsel lived to rue,
As doubtlessly, my friend, will you.
If wise, my aid again you'll seek - '
And so, persuaded, did the Greek.

Not vain our tale, if it convinces
Small states that 'tis a wiser thing
To trust a single powerful king,
Than half a dozen petty princes.

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