Monday, October 4, 2010

La Fontaine: The Wishes

Within the Great Mogul's domains there are
Familiar sprites of much domestic use:
They sweep the house, and take a tidy care
Of equipage, nor garden work refuse;
But, if you meddle with their toil,
The whole, at once, you're sure to spoil.
One, near the mighty Ganges flood,
The garden of a burgher good
Work'd noiselessly and well;
To master, mistress, garden, bore
A love that time and toil outwore,
And bound him like a spell.
Did friendly zephyrs blow,
The demon's pains to aid?
(For so they do, 'tis said.)
I own I do not know.
But for himself he rested not,
And richly bless'd his master's lot.
What mark'd his strength of love,
He lived a fixture on the place,
In spite of tendency to rove
So natural to his race.
But brother sprites conspiring
With importunity untiring,
So teased their goblin chief, that he,
Of his caprice, or policy,
Our sprite commanded to attend
A house in Norway's farther end,
Whose roof was snow-clad through the year,
And shelter'd human kind with deer.
Before departing to his hosts
Thus spake this best of busy ghosts:--
'To foreign parts I'm forced to go!
For what sad fault I do not know;--
But go I must; a month's delay,
Or week's perhaps, and I'm away.
Seize time; three wishes make at will;
For three I'm able to fulfil--
No more.' Quick at their easy task,
Abundance first these wishers ask--
Abundance, with her stores unlock'd--
Barns, coffers, cellars, larder, stock'd--
Corn, cattle, wine, and money,--
The overflow of milk and honey.
But what to do with all this wealth!
What inventories, cares, and worry!
What wear of temper and of health!
Both lived in constant, slavish hurry.
Thieves took by plot, and lords by loan;
The king by tax, the poor by tone.
Thus felt the curses which
Arise from being rich,--
'Remove this affluence!' they pray;
The poor are happier than they
Whose riches make them slaves.
'Go, treasures, to the winds and waves;
Come, goddess of the quiet breast,
Who sweet'nest toil with rest,
Dear Mediocrity, return!'
The prayer was granted as we learn.
Two wishes thus expended,
Had simply ended
In bringing them exactly where,
When they set out they were.
So, usually, it fares
With those who waste in such vain prayers
The time required by their affairs.
The goblin laugh'd, and so did they.
However, ere he went away,
To profit by his offer kind,
They ask'd for wisdom, wealth of mind,--
A treasure void of care and sorrow--
A treasure fearless of the morrow,
Let who will steal, or beg, or borrow.

Source: Wright's translation of La Fontaine, Fable 7.6.

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