An argosy of fables/German fables

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An argosy of fables
Book 3. Part 5, German fables




A LONELY Fir-tree standeth,
On a height where north winds blow;
It sleepeth, with whitened garment,
Enshrouded by ice and snow.

It dreameth of a Palm-tree,
That far in the Eastern land
Lonely and silent mourneth
On its burning shelf of sand.

(Heinrich Heine. Translated by W. W. Story.)


A RAVEN rather thievishly inclined,
Went hopping here and there to pilfer
Such little god-sends, both of gold and silver
As he could find.
With seals, and watch-chains, trinkets, rings,
And fifty other pretty little things.
At last a grave old Cock, who saw,
At sundry times.
Our black transgressor of the law,
Commit these crimes;
One day address'd him with a "Pr'ythee,
Why dost thou fetch these gew-gaws with thee?
What use can these be to thee?"—"None,"
Quoth the old robber, in a croaking tone,
"But then I take them
You see, to make them
My own."



A CERTAIN Simpleton painted his Donkey green—that is, he painted the body green and the legs red—and started to lead him along the street. Every one, young and old, came out to stare. "What a marvel!" cried the whole town, "A grass-green Donkey with scarlet legs! Here is a story to be handed down to our grandchildren as one of the wonders of our generation!" The streets swarmed with the crowds jostling and shoving to get a sight. They filled the windows and thronged the doors: for every one wanted at least to see the Green Donkey even if they could not get a chance to walk beside it.

For the first two days they followed the Donkey, marvelling at him. Even the sick folk forgot their pains when the Green Donkey was talked of. And even the nurses stopped singing children to sleep with "Baa, baa. Black Sheep," but sang instead of Green Donkeys.

But the third day had hardly passed when the novelty of the Green Donkey was over. Everybody had lost all desire to see a painted Donkey of any colour. And however wonderful he had seemed at first, there was soon not a person in town who ever said a word about him.

(From the German of Gellert.)


ONE day a Cuckoo, in his flights up and down,
Fell in with a Starling escaping from town:
"Pray, what is the talk?" he began with an air;
"Pray, how do they speak of our songs in the city?
Pray, what do they think of the Nightingale there?"
"The whole of the town is in love with her ditty."—
"And pray, what remark do they pass on the lark?"—
"She's high in renown with the half of the town."—
"Indeed! well, and as to the blackbird?"—"He too.
Is very much praised, here and there, by a few."—
"Well, now I've to add, that I'd feel very glad
If you'd tell me the various opinions that go forth,
Respecting myself, and my merits, and so forth?"—
"Why that," said the Starling, "I hardly can do.
For scarcely a soul ever talks about you."—
"Base ingrates!—well then, as they grant me no praise
I'll trumpet myself to the end of my days."
So saying, away to the forest he flew.
And even since then has been crying "Cuckoo!"



A COLT, that had never felt a rider's weight, looked upon bridle and saddle as marks of distinction. Under this impression, it ran after every Horse on which it saw a man mounted, and sighed impatiently for the time when it should be similarly honoured.

At length the envied trappings were placed upon the Colt; and it was led gently up and down, in order that it might become accustomed to the curb. The Colt strutted proudly up and down and was immensely pleased with itself.

Elate with its new honours, it returned to its stall and neighing loudly, told all the Horses of its good fortune. "I was praised by all who saw me," it told the nearest Horse. "A red bridle hung from my mouth and lay gracefully over my black mane."

But the very next day the Colt came sorrowfully back, in a white lather of perspiration, and said: "Life is full of disappointments! To be sure, my bridle is ornamental; but it was not made for that. It was invented for my rider's benefit, and to make me his obedient slave."

(Gellert, Fables. Bussey's translation.)


A WOLF lay at his last gasp, and recalled the many events of his past life. "True, I am a sinner," said he, "but let me still hope, not one of the greatest. I have done harm, but also much good. Once, I remember, a bleating Lamb, which had strayed from the flock, came so near me that I could easily have throttled it; yet I did not harm the Lamb. At the same time, I listened to the jeers and jibes of an old Sheep with the most surprising indifference, although there were no Sheep-dogs there to be feared."

"I can explain all that," interrupted his friend, the Fox, who was comforting his last hours. "I remember distinctly all the circumstances. It was precisely the time that you so unfortunately got a bone stuck in your throat, which the kind-hearted Crane afterwards drew out!"

(Lessing, Fables, Book II, No. 4. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)


A POWERFUL Ox tore away the upper part of the door-way with his horns, in pushing himself through the low entrance of his stall.

"Look, Master!" shouted a presumptions young Calf, "I do not injure your property as the clumsy Ox does!

"How glad I would be," answered the Master, "if you were already big and strong enough to be able to do so!"

(Lessing, Fables, Book II, No. 5. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)


A HEN who had lost her sight, and was accustomed to scratching up the earth in search of food, although blind, still continued to scratch away most diligently. Of what use was it to the industrious fool? Another sharp-sighted hen who spared her tender feet, never budged from her side, and enjoyed, without scratching, the fruit of the other's labour. For as often as the Blind Hen scratched up a barleycorn, her watchful companion devoured it.

(Lessing, Fables, Book II, No. 9. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)


ONCE upon a time the Donkeys complained to Jupiter that they were treated too cruelly by mankind. "Our strong backs," said they, "carry burdens which every weaker animal and Man himself would sink under. And what is more, they try to force us by merciless beating to go at a speed which is rendered impossible by our heavy loads, even if it were not denied us by nature. Forbid them, Great Jupiter, to be so unreasonable. We are willing to serve them, since we seem to have been created for that purpose, but we object to being beaten without cause."

"My children," replied Jupiter, "your request is just. But I see no possible way of convincing Mankind that your natural slowness is not due to laziness. And as long as they believe this, you will be beaten. But I have thought of one way of lightening your sorrows. From this moment onward I will dull your sense of feeling; your skins shall be toughened to resist blows, and to fatigue the arm of the Driver."

"Immortal Jupiter," shouted the Donkeys, "you are ever wise and merciful," and they departed from his throne rejoicing.

(Lessing, Fables, Book II, No. 10. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)


A SWARM of Bees settled and built their hive in the hollow trunk of a Wild Apple-Tree. They soon filled the hollow with the treasures of their Honey, and the Wild Apple-Tree became so proud in consequence that it looked down contemptuously upon all its neighbours.

Hereupon a Rose-Bush thus addressed the Tree: "Truly yours is a poor sort of pride that bases itself upon borrowed sweetness! Is your miserable fruit any the less bitter because the Bees have made their home in your hollow trunk? Sweeten it then with their honey, if you can; for not until then will you be of any value to Mankind!"

(Lessing, Fables, Book II, No. 25. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)


WILL you kindly explain," said the Willow to the Bramble, "why you are so eager to seize hold of the clothes of every man, woman or child that passes by? Of what use can their clothes possibly be to you?"

"Of no use," said the Bramble. "Neither do I wish to take the clothes from them. I only want to tear them."

(Lessing Fables, Book II, No. 27. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)


AN Archer once had an excellent Bow made of ebony, which would carry an arrow true to the mark from a great distance. Consequently he valued it very highly. One day, however, as he examined it attentively, he soliloquized: "You are still a little too thick; and you have no decorations excepting your polish. What a pity!" Then on second thought he added, "But that may be remedied. I will go to the cleverest artist I can find and order him to carve my Bow with ornamental figures."

Without losing a moment, the Archer set out to find the Artist; and the Artist soon carved a complete hunting scene on the Bow; and what could be more suitable on a weapon of the chase?

The Archer was delighted. "Ah! my dear Bow," he said, "you well deserve these embellishments!" Wishing again to try its powers, he spans the Bow and it breaks.

(Lessing, Fables, Book III, No. 1. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)


A VENERABLE old man, despite his years and the heat of the day, was ploughing his field with his own hand, and sowing the grain in the willing earth, in anticipation of the harvest it would produce.

Suddenly beneath the deep shadow of a spreading oak, a divine apparition stood before him! The old man was seized with affright.

"I am Solomon," said the phantom encouragingly. "What dost thou here, old friend?"

"If thou art Solomon," said the owner of the field, "how canst thou ask? In my youth I learnt from the ant to be industrious and to accumulate wealth. That which I then learnt I now practise."

"Thou hast learnt but the half of thy lesson," pursued the spirit. "Go once more to the ant, and she will teach thee to rest in the winter of thy existence, and enjoy what thou hast earned."

(Leasing, Fables, Book III, No. 3. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)


A SWALLOW alighted on the back of a Sheep, to pluck a little wool for her nest. The Sheep, unwilling to lose any of his coat, tried to shake off the intruder.

"What makes you so unfriendly towards me?" asked the Swallow. "You allow the Shepherd to shear you of your wool from head to foot; yet you grudge me the smallest bit of it. Whatever is the reason?"

"The reason," replied the Sheep, "is that you lack the skill to take off my wool in the same easy manner that the Shepherd shears me."

(Lessing, Fables, Book III, No. 5. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)


" WHAT incomprehensible creatures men are!" said the Bear to the Elephant. "What will they not expect next of us superior animals? I am forced to dance to music, I, a serious-minded Bear! Yet they know quite well that such foolish capers are unsuited to my dignified nature. Otherwise why do they always laugh when I dance?"

"I also dance to music," replied the wise old Elephant," and I consider myself quite as sedate and honourable as yourself. Nevertheless, the spectators never laugh at me; all that can be read in their faces is a pleased wonderment. Believe me, friend Bear, the people laugh at you, not because you dance, but because you look as though you felt so silly."

(Lessing, Fables, Book III, No. 11. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)


THE arrow-swift Reindeer once saw an Ostrich, and said: "There is nothing remarkable about the way in which the Ostrich runs. But it is quite likely that he flies much better."

At another time the Eagle saw the Ostrich, and said: "To be sure the Ostrich cannot fly, but I dare say that he may run rather well."

(Lessing, Fables, Book III, No. 12. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)


" HAVE you in the creation, any greater benefactor than me?" asked the bee of a man.

"Most undoubtedly," replied the man.

"Name him!"

"The sheep! For his wool is necessary to me, and your honey is only a luxury. And I will give you another reason, Mrs. Bee, why I consider the sheep a greater benefactor than you. The sheep gives me his wool without the least trouble or danger; but when I take your honey, you keep me in constant apprehension of your sting."

(Lessing, Fables, Book III, No. 13. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)


AN Old Stag, whom kindly nature had allowed to live to the age of a hundred years, once said to one of his grandchildren: "I can still well remember the time when man had not yet invented the noisy shot-gun."

"What a happy time that must have been for our race," sighed the Young Stag.

"You jump too quickly at conclusions," answered the Old Stag. "The times were no better than they are now; they were only different. Instead of the shot-gun men had the bow and arrow, and we were just as badly off then as we are now."

(Lessing, Fables, Book III, No. 26. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)


THE Peacock once said to the barn-yard Hen: "Listen to me! Have you ever thought that no matter how bravely and haughtily your Rooster struts about, men never speak of him as 'the proud Rooster?' Yet they always speak of me as 'the proud Peacock!'"

"The reason for that," answered the Hen, "is that men will excuse a justifiable pride. The Rooster is proud of his manliness, and the faithful watch he keeps. But what have you to be proud of? Paint and feathers!"

(Lessing, Fables, Book III, No. 27. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)


A LION once honored a Hare with his friendship. "Is it really a fact," asked the Hare, "that the crowing of a miserable cock is enough to scare you Lions into running away?"

"Such is undoubtedly the case," replied the Lion. "And it is a general truth that we larger animals, almost all of us, have some one foolish weakness. For example, you yourself must have heard that the grunting of a pig will astonish and terrify an elephant."

"Indeed!" interrupted the Hare. "Ah! now I understand why we Hares are so terribly afraid of a dog."

(Lessing, Fables, Book I, No. 3. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)


" FATHER of man and beast," said the Horse, approaching the throne of Jupiter, "it is said that I am one of the noblest creatures with which you have adorned the world, and my vanity tells me to believe it. But do you not think it would still be possible to improve my form?"

"And how do you propose to improve it? Speak, for I am open to suggestions," returned Jupiter, smiling graciously.

"Perhaps," returned the Horse, "I might have more speed if my legs were longer and more slender; a long swan-like neck would add to my beauty; a broader chest would increase my strength; and since you have destined me to carry upon my back your favourite, man, it might be well if the saddle, which my kind rider provides me with, should once for all be made a part of my body."

"Excellent," replied Jupiter, "wait a moment!"

And then, with a solemn air, he spoke the Word of Creation. The dust received the breath of life, matter took on its appointed form; and suddenly there stood before the throne the ungainly Camel. The Horse saw, shrank back, and shuddered in disgust and fear.

"Here," said Jupiter, "are longer and more slender legs; here is a long swan-like neck, a broader chest, a ready-made saddle. Is this the form you wish in place of your own?"

The Horse continued to shudder in silence.

"Go," concluded Jupiter, "and this time the warning shall be sufficient without further punishment. But in order to remind you from time to time of the folly of your audacity, this new creation shall continue to exist!" Then, casting a sustaining glance upon the Camel, he added, "And no Horse shall ever look upon the Camel without fear and trembling."

(Lessing, Fables, Book I, No. 5. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)


A SOCIABLE Nightingale found among the other songsters of the grove plenty of birds who envied her, but not a single friend. "Perhaps," thought she, "I may find a friend in some other branch of the bird family," and accordingly flew confidingly to the home of the Peacock.

"Beautiful Peacock! how much I admire you!" she said.

"No less than I admire you, lovely Nightingale," returned the Peacock.

"Then let us be friends," declared the Nightingale, "for we need never be envious of each other. You are as pleasing to the eye as I am to the ear." Accordingly the Nightingale and the Peacock became fast friends.

(Lessing, Fables, Book 1, No. 7. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)


A SHEPHERD had lost the whole of his flock from a dreadful epidemic. The Wolf, hearing of it, came to offer his sympathy.

"Shepherd," said he, "is it true that you have met with this sad affliction, and have lost your whole flock? Such a gentle, obedient flock! I feel for you deeply, and could almost shed tears of blood." "Many thanks. Master Wolf," said the Shepherd, "I see that you have a heart overflowing with compassion."

"Indeed he has," added the Shepherd's Dog, "whenever he himself suffers through a neighbour's misfortune."

(Lessing, Fables, Book I, No. 8. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)


" MY Father, of glorious memory," said a young Wolf to a Fox, "was a true hero! He taught the entire neighbourhood to fear him. In the course of a long life, he met and conquered more than two hundred enemies, and sent their miserable souls to the Kingdom of Death. What wonder is there that at last he was vanquished by one of them?"

"Thus would a prejudiced friend write his epitaph," rejoined the Fox. "But an impartial historian would add that the two hundred enemies whom he conquered in the course of his long life were only Sheep and Asses, and that the one enemy by whom he was vanquished was the first Ox he had ever dared to attack."

(Lessing, Fables, Book I, No. 12. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)


ONCE upon a time there was a Goose whose feathers rivalled the whiteness of the newly fallen snow. In her pride at this dazzling gift of Nature, she considered herself intended for a Swan, rather than for what she really was. Accordingly, separating herself from her companions, she swam around the pond in solitary majesty. She now stretched her neck, the tell-tale shortness of which she made every effort to disguise. Now, she tried to give it that graceful curve which is the unmistakable charm of a really beautiful Swan. But she tried in vain, for her neck was too stiff, and in spite of all her pains she remained a ridiculous Goose, and never inspired a single beholder with the least idea that she resembled a Swan.

How many Geese there are, without wings, who, because of similar pretentions become a laughing stock to their neighbours.

(Lessing, Fables, Book I, No. 14. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.


A GLUTTONOUS Pig was feeding beneath a lofty Oak tree, upon the fallen acorns. Even while he ate one acorn, he was already casting a greedy eye upon another.

"Ungrateful beast!" at length exclaimed the Oak, "you fatten yourself upon my fruit without bestowing a single thought of gratitude upon the source of it.

The Pig, interrupting his feeding for a moment, grunted in reply: "My grateful regards should not be wanting, if only I could feel sure that you had let your acorns fall on my account."

(Lessing, Fables, Book I, No. 15. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)


THERE was once an ancient church in the chinks and crannies of which the Sparrows had built countless nests. In the course of time this old church was repaired. As it stood in all the lustre of its new stone and plaster, the Sparrows returned to look for their old homes; but they found that these had all been carefully bricked up. "Of what earthly use," cried the Sparrows, "can so large a building now be? Come, let us leave this useless pile of stone to its fate!"

(Lessing, Fables, Book I, No. 17. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)


THE clumsy Ox and the nimble Stag once had their pasture together in the same meadow.

"Stag," said the Ox, "if the Lion should attack us, let us pledge ourselves to assist each other; between your antlers and my horns, we shall be able to keep him off bravely."

"Such a bargain would never suit me," replied the Stag. "Why should I promise to engage in an unequal contest with the Lion, when my swift legs enable me so easily to escape from him?"

(Lessing, Fables, Book I, No. 27. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)


THE next time you write a fable about me," said the donkey to Æsop, "make me say something wise and sensible."

"Something sensible from you!" exclaimed Æsop; "what would the world think? People would call you the moralist, and me the donkey!"

(Lessing, Fables, Book I, No. 30. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.)