Thursday, November 11, 2010

La Fontaine: The Fisher and the Cormorant

No pond nor pool within his haunt
But paid a certain cormorant
Its contribution from its fishes,
And stock'd his kitchen with good dishes.
Yet, when old age the bird had chill'd,
His kitchen was less amply fill'd.
All cormorants, however grey,
Must die, or for themselves purvey.
But ours had now become so blind,
His finny prey he could not find;
And, having neither hook nor net,
His appetite was poorly met.
What hope, with famine thus infested?
Necessity, whom history mentions,
A famous mother of inventions,
The following stratagem suggested:
He found upon the water's brink
A crab, to which said he, 'My friend,
A weighty errand let me send:
Go quicker than a wink--
Down to the fishes sink,
And tell them they are doom'd to die;
For, ere eight days have hasten'd by,
Its lord will fish this water dry.'
The crab, as fast as she could scrabble,
Went down, and told the scaly rabble.
What bustling, gathering, agitation!
Straight up they send a deputation
To wait upon the ancient bird.
'Sir Cormorant, whence hast thou heard
This dreadful news? And what
Assurance of it hast thou got?
How such a danger can we shun?
Pray tell us, what is to be done?
'Why, change your dwelling-place,' said he,
'What, change our dwelling! How can we?'
'O, by your leave, I'll take that care,
And, one by one, in safety bear
You all to my retreat:
The path's unknown
To any feet,
Except my own.
A pool, scoop'd out by Nature's hands,
Amidst the desert rocks and sands,
Where human traitors never come,
Shall save your people from their doom.'
The fish republic swallow'd all,
And, coming at the fellow's call,
Were singly borne away to stock
A pond beneath a lonely rock;
And there good prophet cormorant,
Proprietor and bailiff sole,
From narrow water, clear and shoal,
With ease supplied his daily want,
And taught them, at their own expense,
That heads well stored with common sense
Give no devourers confidence.--
Still did the change not hurt their case,
Since, had they staid, the human race,
Successful by pernicious art,
Would have consumed as large a part.
What matters who your flesh devours,
Of human or of bestial powers?
In this respect, or wild or tame,
All stomachs seem to me the same:
The odds is small, in point of sorrow,
Of death to-day, or death to-morrow.

Source: Wright's translation of La Fontaine, Fable 10.4.
1004 Ardea, Cancer et Pisces

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