The Two Dogs And The Dead Ass.

A poem by Jean de La Fontaine


The Virtues should be sisters, hand in hand,
Since banded brothers all the Vices stand:
When one of these our hearts attacks,
All come in file; there only lacks,
From out the cluster, here and there,
A mate of some antagonizing pair,
That can't agree the common roof to share.
But all the Virtues, as a sisterhood,
Have scarcely ever in one subject stood.
We find one brave, but passionate;
Another prudent, but ingrate.
Of beasts, the dog may claim to be
The pattern of fidelity;
But, for our teaching little wiser,
He's both a fool and gormandiser.
For proof, I cite two mastiffs, that espied
A dead ass floating on a water wide.
The distance growing more and more,
Because the wind the carcass bore, -
'My friend,' said one, 'your eyes are best;
Pray let them on the water rest:
What thing is that I seem to see?
An ox, or horse? what can it be?'
'Hey!' cried his mate; 'what matter which,
Provided we could get a flitch?
It doubtless is our lawful prey:
The puzzle is to find some way
To get the prize; for wide the space
To swim, with wind against your face.[2]
Let's drink the flood; our thirsty throats
Will gain the end as well as boats.
The water swallow'd, by and bye
We'll have the carcass, high and dry -
Enough to last a week, at least.'
Both drank as some do at a feast;
Their breath was quench'd before their thirst,
And presently the creatures burst!

And such is man. Whatever he
May set his soul to do or be,
To him is possibility?
How many vows he makes!
How many steps he takes!
How does he strive, and pant, and strain,
Fortune's or Glory's prize to gain!
If round my farm off well I must,
Or fill my coffers with the dust,
Or master Hebrew, science, history, -
I make my task to drink the sea.
One spirit's projects to fulfil,
Four bodies would require; and still
The work would stop half done;
The lives of four Methuselahs,
Placed end to end for use, alas!
Would not suffice the wants of one.

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