Marie de France, Fables (c. 1190)



A Cock our story tells of, who
High on a dunghill stood and crew.
A Fox, attracted, straight drew nigh,
And spake soft words of flattery.

'Dear Sir!' said he, 'Your look's divine;
I never saw a bird so fine!
I never heard a voice so clear
Except your father's -- ah! poor dear!
His voice rang clearly, loudly -- but
Most clearly, when his eyes were shut!'

'The same with me!' the Cock replies, And flaps
his wings, and shuts his eyes.
Each note rings clearer than the last
The Fox starts up, and holds him fast;
Towards the wood he hies apace.

But as he crossed an open space,
The shepherds spy him; off they fly;
The dogs give chase with hue and cry.
The Fox still holds the Cock, though fear
Suggests his case is growing queer. --
'Tush!' cries the Cock, 'cry out, to grieve 'em,
"The cock is mine! I'll never leave him!"'
The Fox attempts, in scorn, to shout,
And opes his mouth; the Cock slips out,
And, in a trice, has gained a tree.

Too late the Fox begins to see
How well the Cock his game has play'd;
For once his tricks have been repaid.
In angry language, uncontrolled,
He 'gins to curse the mouth that's bold
To speak, when it should silent be.

'Well,' says the Cock, 'the same with me;
I curse the eyes that go to sleep
Just when they ought sharp watch to keep
Lest evil to their lord befall.'

Thus fools contraiously do all:
They chatter when they should be dumb,
And when they ought to speak are mum.



This translation of Marie's fable, by W.W. Skeat, was printed in The Academy, July 23, 1887 (p. 56) and reprinted in Vol III, pp. 434-35, of his edition of Chaucer.


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