Favourite Poems XIV

Something a little different. “La Cigale et La Formi”, a reworking of one of Aesop’s Fables, was the first of Jean de La Fontaine’s Fables Choisies, published in 1668 to amuse and edify the French middle-class during the reign of Louis XIV. In it’s Disneyfied form — The Ant and the Grasshopper —  it’s a straightforward morality tale of thrift versus dissipation; but the original version contains considerably more ambiguous questions on the value of art and the meaning of charity.

“La Cigale” translates as “cicada”, through it’s traditionally rendered as “grasshopper”. I have retained the original meaning.

The Cicada and the Ant

Cicada sang summer away,
Then in an unfortunate way
She found herself when frost bit
Without the leastest tidbit
Of fly or worm. She cried hunger
At her neighbour’s, Madame Ant.
Cicada begged her to grant.
A little wheat to sustain her
Until the new season of summer.
She cried, “On my creaturely oath,
I will repay you in full both
Principal and interest,
Before August’s new harvest!”
Now Madame Ant does not lend;
Worse faults she may defend.
She asked her supplicant and guest
“In fair weather, how did you list?”
“To all comers, I gave my song,
Night and day, I sang: am I wrong?”
“Sang all summer? I’m glad, and how!
Very well then, you may dance now!”
La Cigale, ayant chanté
Tout l’été,
Se trouva fort dépourvue
Quand la bise fut venue.
Pas un seul petit morceau
De mouche ou de vermisseau.
Elle alla crier famine
Chez la fourmi sa voisine,
La priant de lui prêter
Quelque grain pour subsister
Jusqu’à la saison nouvelle.
« Je vous paierai, lui dit-elle,
Avant l’oût, foi d’animal,
Intérêt et principal. »
La Fourmi n’est pas prêteuse ;
C’est là son moindre défaut.
« Que faisiez-vous au temps chaud ?
Dit-elle à cette emprunteuse.
–Nuit et jour à tout venant
Je chantais, ne vous déplaise.
–Vous chantiez ? j’en suis fort aise.
Eh bien ! dansez maintenant. »

— Jean de La Fontaine
trans. by TorontoEmerg, 20/07/10

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