The Quarrel Of The Dogs And Cats, And That Of The Cats And Mice.

A poem by Jean de La Fontaine

Enthroned by an eternal law,
Hath Discord reign'd throughout the universe.
In proof, I might from this our planet draw
A thousand instances diverse.
Within the circle of our view,
This queen hath subjects not a few.
Beginning with the elements,
It is astonishing to see
How they have stood, to all intents,
As wrestlers from eternity.
Besides these four great potentates,
Old stubborn earth, fire, flood, and air,
How many other smaller states
Are waging everlasting war!
In mansion deck'd with frieze and column,
Dwelt dogs and cats in multitudes;
Decrees, promulged in manner solemn,
Had pacified their ancient feuds.
Their lord had so arranged their meals and labours,
And threaten'd quarrels with the whip,
That, living in sweet cousinship,
They edified their wondering neighbours.
At last, some dainty plate to lick,
Or profitable bone to pick,
Bestow'd by some partiality,
Broke up the smooth equality.
The side neglected were indignant
At such a slight malignant.
Some writers make the whole dispute begin
With favours to a bitch while lying in.
Whate'er the cause, the altercation
Soon grew a perfect conflagration.
In hall and kitchen, dog and cat
Took sides with zeal for this or that.
New rules upon the cat side falling
Produced tremendous caterwauling.
Their advocate, against such rules as these,
Advised recurrence to the old decrees.
They search'd in vain, for, hidden in a nook,
The thievish mice had eaten up the book.
Another quarrel, in a trice,
Made many sufferers with the mice;
For many a veteran whisker'd-face,
With craft and cunning richly stored,
And grudges old against the race,
Now watch'd to put them to the sword;
Nor mourn'd for this that mansion's lord.

Resuming our discourse, we see
No creature from opponents free.
'Tis nature's law for earth and sky;
'Twere vain to ask the reason why;
God's works are good, - I cannot doubt it, -
And that is all I know about it.
I know, however, that the cause
Which hath our human quarrels brought,
Three quarters of the time, is nought
That will be, is, or ever was.
Ye veterans, in state and church,
At threescore years, indeed,
It seems there still is need
To give you lessons with the birch!

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