The Rabbits.

A poem by Jean de La Fontaine

[1]

An Address To The Duke De La Rochefoucauld.[2]

While watching man in all his phases,
And seeing that, in many cases,
He acts just like the brute creation, -
I've thought the lord of all these races
Of no less failings show'd the traces
Than do his lieges in relation;
And that, in making it, Dame Nature
Hath put a spice in every creature
From off the self-same spirit-stuff -
Not from the immaterial,
But what we call ethereal,
Refined from matter rough.
An illustration please to hear.
Just on the still frontier
Of either day or night, -
Or when the lord of light
Reclines his radiant head
Upon his watery bed,
Or when he dons the gear,
To drive a new career, -
While yet with doubtful sway
The hour is ruled 'twixt night and day, -
Some border forest-tree I climb;
And, acting Jove, from height sublime
My fatal bolt at will directing,
I kill some rabbit unsuspecting.
The rest that frolick'd on the heath,
Or browsed the thyme with dainty teeth,
With open eye and watchful ear,
Behold, all scampering from beneath,
Instinct with mortal fear.
All, frighten'd simply by the sound,
Hie to their city underground.
But soon the danger is forgot,
And just as soon the fear lives not:
The rabbits, gayer than before,
I see beneath my hand once more!

Are not mankind well pictured here?
By storms asunder driven,
They scarcely reach their haven,
And cast their anchor, ere
They tempt the same dread shocks
Of tempests, waves, and rocks.
True rabbits, back they frisk
To meet the self-same risk!

I add another common case.
When dogs pass through a place
Beyond their customary bounds,
And meet with others, curs or hounds,
Imagine what a holiday!
The native dogs, whose interests centre
In one great organ, term'd the venter,
The strangers rush at, bite, and bay;
With cynic pertness tease and worry,
And chase them off their territory.
So, too, do men. Wealth, grandeur, glory,
To men of office or profession,
Of every sort, in every nation,
As tempting are, and sweet,
As is to dogs the refuse meat.
With us, it is a general fact,
One sees the latest-come attack'd,
And plunder'd to the skin.
Coquettes and authors we may view,
As samples of the sin;
For woe to belle or writer new!
The fewer eaters round the cake,
The fewer players for the stake,
The surer each one's self to take.
A hundred facts my truth might test;
But shortest works are always best.
In this I but pursue the chart
Laid down by masters of the art;
And, on the best of themes, I hold,
The truth should never all be told.
Hence, here my sermon ought to close.
O thou, to whom my fable owes
Whate'er it has of solid worth, -
Who, great by modesty as well as birth,
Hast ever counted praise a pain, -
Whose leave I could so ill obtain
That here your name, receiving homage,
Should save from every sort of damage
My slender works - which name, well known
To nations, and to ancient Time,
All France delights to own;
Herself more rich in names sublime
Than any other earthly clime; -
Permit me here the world to teach
That you have given my simple rhyme
The text from which it dares to preach.

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