restricted access Jean de La Fontaine
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78 French Jean de La Fontaine (1621–95) The Scythian Philosopher Once a philosopher famed for austerity, Left Scythia that he might taste luxury And sailed to Greece where he met in his wanderings, A sage like the one Virgil has made memorable— Who seemed a king or god, remote from mundane things, Since like the gods he was at peace and all seemed well. Now a garden enabled his life to expand And the Scythian found him pruning-hook in hand Lopping here and there what looked unprofitable. He sundered and slendered, curtailing this and that, Careful that not a dead twig be spared; Then for care to excess, Nature paid a sure reward. “But are you not inconsiderate?” The Scythian inquired. He said, “Is it good To denude a tree of twigs and leave it scarcely one? Lay down your pruning-hook; your onslaught is too rude. Permit time to do what needs to be done: Dead wood will soon be adrift on the Styx’ dark flood.” The Sage said,—“Remove sere boughs and when they are gone, One has benefitted what remain.” The Scythian returned to his bleak shore, Seized his own pruning-hook, was at work hour on hour, Enjoining upon any in the vicinity That they work—the whole community. He sheared off whatever was beautiful, Indiscriminately trimmed and cut down, Persevering in reduction Beneath new moons and full Till none of his trees could bear. In this Scythian Jean de La Fontaine 79  We have the injudicious man Or so-called Stoic, who would restrain His best emotions along with the depraved And give up every innocent thing he craved. As for me, such perverted logic is my bane. Don’t smother the fire in my heart which makes life dear; Do not snuff me out yet. I’m not laid on my bier. Phoebus and Boreas The sun and the north wind observed a traveller Who was cloaked with particular care Because fall had returned; for when autumn has come, What we wear must be warm or we dare not leave home. Both rain and rainbow as the sun shines fitfully, Warn one to dress warily In these months when we don’t know for what to prepare— An uncertain time in the Roman calendar. Though our traveller was fortified for a gale, With interlined cloak which the rain could not penetrate, The wind said, “This man thinks himself impregnable And his cloak is well sewn, but my force can prevail As he’ll find in the blast I create, That not a button has held. Indeed before I am through, I may waft the whole mantle away. The battle could afford us amusement, I’d say. Do you fancy a contest?” The sun said, “I do. Mere words are unprofitable, Let us see which can first unfasten the mantle Protecting the pedestrian. Begin: I shall hide; you uncloak him if you can.” Then our blower swelled, swallowed what wind he could, To form a balloon, and with the wager to win, Made demoniacal din, 80 French Puffed, snorted, and sighed till the blast that he brewed Left ships without a sail and homes without a roof Because a mantle proved storm-proof. It was a triumph for the man to have withstood The onslaught of wind that had rushed in, As he somehow stood firm. The wind roared his chagrin— A defeated boaster since his gusts had been borne. Controlling clasp and skirt required dexterity, But the wind found nothing torn And must stop punctually. The cloud had made it cool Till the sun’s genial influence caused the traveller to give way, And perspiring because wearing wool, He cast off a wrap too warm for the day Though the sun had not yet shone with maximum force. Clemency may be our best resource. The Schoolboy, the Pedant, and the Man with a Garden Here was a youth symbolic of the school— Up to his chin in what would mean the cane, Fearsomely young and bearing out the rule That pedants can impair anybody’s brain, Stealing fruit from a neighbor, old refrain; Deflowering a tree. In the fall every time, Pomona’s gifts to the neighbor were sublime, Superior to whatever others grew As seasons led forth their retinue. Where in spring find the flowers gardens bore, Like Flora’s own in bloom at his door? He saw a boor from the school in the orchard one day, Who’d got...