Of fables judge not by their face;
They give the simplest brute a teacher's place.
Bare precepts were inert and tedious things;
The story gives them life and wings.
But story for the story's sake
Were sorry business for the wise;
As if, for pill that one should take,
You gave the sugary disguise.
For reasons such as these,
Full many writers great and good
Have written in this frolic mood,
And made their wisdom please.
But tinsel'd style they all have shunn'd with care;
With them one never sees a word to spare.
Of Phaedrus some have blamed the brevity,
While Aesop uses fewer words than he.
A certain Greek, however, beats
Them both in his larconic feats.
Each tale he locks in verses four;
The well or ill I leave to critic lore.
At Aesop's side to see him let us aim,
Upon a theme substantially the same.
The one selects a lover of the chase;
A shepherd comes, the other's tale to grace.
Their tracks I keep, though either tale may grow
A little in its features as I go.
The one which Aesop tells is nearly this: -
A shepherd from his flock began to miss,
And long'd to catch the stealer of, his sheep.
Before a cavern, dark and deep,
Where wolves retired by day to sleep,
Which he suspected as the thieves,
He set his trap among the leaves;
And, ere he left the place,
He thus invoked celestial grace: -
'O king of all the powers divine,
Against the rogue but grant me this delight,
That this my trap may catch him in my sight,
And I, from twenty calves of mine,
Will make the fattest thine.'
But while the words were on his tongue,
Forth came a lion great and strong.
Down crouch'd the man of sheep, and said,
With shivering fright half dead,
'Alas! that man should never be aware
Of what may be the meaning of his prayer!
To catch the robber of my flocks,
O king of gods, I pledged a calf to thee:
If from his clutches thou wilt rescue me,
I'll raise my offering to an ox.'
'Tis thus the master-author tells the story:
Now hear the rival of his glory.