Fables and Parables
To the Children
Oh, you who are so ready to forsake all
In order to go chase after a bauble,
After a bauble that wafts up out of view,
Listen, children, fables do I bring to you.
You whose element is unfettered caprice,
Who expect trifles to secure mind's release,
Trifles that will in fact all reason undo,
Listen, children, fables do I bring to you.
You wretched of writers' estate denizens
Whose fairy tales delude fellow citizens,
Fairy tales constructed by a thoughtless fool,
Listen, children, fables do I bring to you.
Foreword to the Fables
There was once a young man whose temperance never flagged;
There was an old man, too, who never scolded or nagged;
There was a rich man who shared his wealth with the needy;
There flourished an author, for renown never greedy;
There was a customs man who did not steal; a cobbler who shunned alcohol;
A soldier who did not boast; a rogue who did not brawl;
There was a politician who never thought of self;
There was a poet who never put lies on his shelf.
- "No, you'll never convince me that that's the right label!"
"Nevertheless, I will call all of that a fable."
Abuzei and Tair
"Congratulate me, father," said Tair, "I prosper.
Tomorrow I am to become the Sultan's brother-
In-law and hunt with him." Quoth father: "All does alter,
Your lord's good graces, women's favor, autumn weather."
He had guessed aright, the son's plans did not turn out well:
The Sultan withheld his sister, all day the rain fell.
The Stream and the River (1)
The stream, flowing with a clamor from the mountain top,
Laughed at the river as it quietly flowed nonstop.
Water ran short at the mountain when the snows did melt,
Until at last the stream became only a streamlet.
What is worse, what had started out with a hue and scream
Plunged full into the river and ceased to be a stream.
The Blind Man and the Lame
A blind man was carrying a lame man on his back,
And everything was going well, everything's on track,
When the blind man decides to take it into his head
That he needn't listen to all that the lame man said.
"This stick I have will guide the two of us safe," said he,
And though warned by the lame man, he plowed into a tree.
On they proceeded; the lame man now warned of a brook;
The two survived, but their possessions a soaking took.
At last the blind man ignored the warning of a drop,
And that was to turn out their final and fatal stop.
- Which of the two travelers, you may ask, was to blame?
The Eagle and the Hawk
Eagle, not wishing to incommode himself with chase,
Decided to send hawk after sparrows in his place.
Hawk brought him the sparrows, eagle ate them with pleasure;
At last, not quite sated with the dainties to measure,
Feeling his appetite growing keener and keener —
Eagle ate fowl for breakfast, the fowler for dinner.
The Rat and the Cat
Sitting on the altar, "They're burning incense to me,"
Boasted the rat to all his assembled family.
As the rat grew giddy from excess of incense smoke,
A cat lunged in, seized him, and dispatched him at a stroke.
Ocean and River Tagus
Ocean, all too arrogant in his immensity,
Began scorning the rivers that flowed into his sea.
"Send no more water," he told them, "I've enough of it."
Said Tagus: "Only take thought — it is for your profit,
For your grandeur that we do cleave the globe's fertile land:
Were it not for us rivers, your sea were not so grand."
The Lump of Ice and the Crystal
Begotten of a muddy puddle, a lump of ice
Resented a crystal's transparence and in a trice
Started praying to the sun. The sun began to shine,
The lump of ice glistered but proceeded to decline;
Thus, keen to mend its lot with inopportune trouble,
The lump melted away and returned to the puddle.
The Old Dog and the Old Servant
So long as he brought in the duck and chased down the hare,
Old Sorrel could always reckon on getting his share.
Then the dog grew long in the tooth and could hunt no more,
So his lordship put the erstwhile pet out to pasture.
The poor dog, gnawing at bones, an object of pity,
Was fed by the once-seneschal, since become gillie.
Son and Father
Every age has its bitter, every age has its grief:
Son toiled o'er his book, father was vexed beyond belief.
The one had no rest; the other no freedom, forsooth:
Father lamented his age, son lamented his youth.
The Mouse and the Cat
A mouse, which had eaten a whole book some time ago,
Felt that he had absorbed everything there was to know.
He addressed his companions: "I'll relieve your alarm;
Depend on me, and the cat will cease to do us harm!"
They sent for the cat; and the latter, ready ever,
Wasted nary a minute in coming to confer.
The mouse launched into his sermon. The cat was all ears
And sighed and wept... And the mouse, seeing the cat in tears,
Drew greater inspiration for his sermon from that;
And he emerged from his hole—and was caught by the cat.
Birds in a Cage
"Why do you weep?" inquired the young siskin of the old,
"You're more comfortable in this cage than out in the cold."
"You were born caged," said the elder, "this was your morrow;
"I was free, now I'm caged—hence the cause of my sorrow."
The Lion and the Beasts (1)
Lion, wishing to give evidence of his grace,
Invited his intimates to join him in the chase.
They hunted together, and as token of favor
Lion ate meat and let his comrades the bones savor.
His beneficence having thus become established,
Inasmuch as to show them more favor yet he wished,
That they might more fully appreciate their leader,
Lion gave them leave to devour one of their number.
After the first, a second, a third, a fourth vanished.
Seeing the beasts grown fat, lion, though scarcely famished,
So's to restrain their predations and blot out his shame,
Ate them one and all in justice and decorum's name.
The Little Fish and the Pike
Espying a worm in the water, the little fish
Did greatly regret the worm could not become his dish.
Up came a pike and made his preparations to dine;
He swallowed both worm and hook, which he failed to divine.
As the angler pulled ashore his magnificent prize,
Quoth the little fish: "Sometimes good to be undersize."
A farmer, bent on doubling the profits from his land,
Proceeded to set his soil a two-harvest demand.
Too intent thus on profit, harm himself he must needs:
Instead of corn, he now reaps corn cockle and weeds.
A philosopher, trusting in his propositions,
Believed that God and all His saints were impositions.
Came infirmity, and the wise man who'd scanned the skies
Beheld not merely God, but ghosts as well, with his eyes.
The Stream and the Fountains
The force of the water in the fountains, as it roared,
Was envied by the murmuring stream that, near by, poured.
The pipes burst, by which the water was copiously brought:
The stream flowed on as ever, the fountains, though, did not.
The stream, aforetime envious, was rendered happy:
For now it knew: art will never nature's equal be.
Silver Thaler and Gold Ducat
The silver thaler, impressive by virtue of size,
Did the demonstrably smaller gold ducat despise.
When time came to make change, size was nothing to look at:
The thaler, though larger, was worth but half the ducat.
After a score of decrees and thirteen postponements,
After two-score default judgments and six settlements,
Mark vanquished Peter: and having gained the victory,
He paid his last three hundred złotych for the decree.
Peter and Mark both died after the litigation:
The loser, of despair; the winner, of starvation.
The Lion and the Beasts (2)
The beasts, meeting with lion, proceeded to debate:
For an animal, what's the most valuable trait?
Elephant praised prudence; bison named noble bearing;
Camel commended moderation; leopard, daring;
Bear spoke on behalf of strength; the horse, grace in running;
Wolf advocated the consummate huntsman's cunning;
The lynx, an elegant coat; the deer, delicate form;
Hare cited fleetness of foot; the stag, beautiful horn;
Donkey, industriousness; the dog, fidelity;
The sheep, mildness; the fox, a good head for strategy.
Lion, when asked to give his opinion by the beasts,
Said: "To my mind, he is best who praises himself least."
The Sheep and the Shepherd
As he sheared the sheep, the shepherd went on at some length
That performing the job for her cost him so much strength.
As she remained silent, "Ingrate!" he scolded briskly.
"God bless..." she said. "Without me, where would those woolens be?"
The Miser and the Envious Man
Having their country, spouses and children forsaken,
The miser and the envious man the road had taken,
With Jove as third. As their journey closed, said the god Jove:
"I am Jove, and in order that this to all I prove,
Request what you will: unto the first I shall render
It, and I shall grant double the same to the second."
The miser refused to be the first and would not budge;
The envious man would not speak, likewise keeping his grudge.
At last, unable to goad to action the miser,
The envious man said: "Great god, pluck out one of my eyes!"
It came to pass. And where both might have benefitted,
The envious man lost one; the greedy, both forfeited.
"Why do I freeze out of doors while you sleep on a rug?"
Inquired the bobtail mongrel of the fat, sleek pug.
"I have run of the house, and you the run of a chain,"
The pug replied, "because you serve, while I entertain."
"I come to request your aid, Aristus," said Damon,
"Help me, O friend, in my delicate situation:
I adore beautiful Irene. Her parents and she
Have not yet given their approbation to my plea."
And Aristus replied: "O chosen one, you know well
That I favor you, dear friend, with all my heart and soul,
I'll go to them on your behalf!" Nor did he tarry:
He went and met Irene, and did himself her marry.
The Philosopher and the Orator
A philosopher and an orator contended.
Before their struggle over primacy had ended,
A peasant came up. "Let him judge!" they said together.
"Which," said the philosopher, "do you like the better?
The individual who invents things and creates,
Or him who embellishes them and delineates?"
"We simple folk," said the peasant, "make no studied claim,
But I would prefer the picture rather than the frame."
Man and Health
Man and health happened to be traveling the same route.
At first, man ran at some speed; his companion called out:
"Do not hurry, you'll wear yourself out." Man ran the more.
Health, seeing that man set by health hardly any store,
Followed after, but slowly. They reached the half-way point:
Man, having at the start quite worked his legs out of joint,
Was obliged to slow down. In due course, at his request,
Health approached, and henceforth they joined together in quest.
But man kept stopping and starting, ever out of breath:
"Help me, I can't go on," he told his companion, health.
"You should have heeded me at the beginning," it said;
Man wanted to respond... but he found that health had fled.
Nightingale and Goldfinch
Which, goldfinch or nightingale, was the better singer?
Siskin was asked to judge, and to select the winner.
The goldfinch won, and general astonishment reigned.
The birds flew to commiserate with the nightingale:
"We're sorry for you in your loss, siskin clearly erred."
"And I for him," quoth nightingale, "—for that witless bird."
The Elephant and the Bee
The weak, if they be wise, take not umbrage at the strong!
A bee, confident in the grievousness of her sting,
Approached an elephant as he grazed in the meadow
And paid no attention to his wee apian fellow.
Bee resolved to chastise him and proceeded to sting.
What happened? The bee died, the elephant felt nothing.
Child and Father
The father switched his child for his refusal to learn;
After Dad left, the angry child set the switch to burn.
Soon Jack once more disobeyed and earned lashes again,
His father could not find the switch — so he used a cane.
The servant girl somehow created cause for distress
Just as evening prayers were being said by her mistress.
The lady directed her wrath at the hapless lass
And, as she uttered the words, "Forgive us our trespass
Even as we forgive..." she thrashed her without pity.
God Almighty, please preserve us from such piety!
In a certain library, I don't recall which one,
The books had an altercation; each in its own tongue
Sought to dish out more vituperation than it took.
The librarian enters and asks a history book:
"Why all of this uproar?" — "The reason for my rancor
Is that you have set me right next to a calendar."
"All is as it should be," he said to the history:
"You invent what has been, it invents what is to be."
The Wolf and the Sheep (1)
Sad though it be, one must suffer; though it pains, forgive,
So long as someone can a good explanation give.
A wolf had made a treaty with sheep to get their pelts;
And the sheep, seeing a good opportunity, felt
That they had bound him so air-tight contractually
That henceforward they need have no fear for their safety.
Some days later, he who always covets a sheep's hide
Ate a lamb in the field at high noon, in broad daylight.
The sheep raised a cry! Wolf replied: "Why the dithyrambs?"
In the treaty there is nary a mention of lambs."
Then he strangled a ewe: and again an uproar soared.
Quoth the wolf: "Don't you know, she came of her own accord."
Before long there were more complaints and more commotion
As wolf killed a sheep, then some in collaboration.
"Others ripped them up," said wolf, "I merely assisted."
And so, as the burgeoning commotion persisted,
Whether he'd make frontal assault or stealthily creep,
He would always explain himself—and consume the sheep.
The Stream and the River (2)
A stream that swiftly ran through a beautiful valley
Admonished the great river for flowing so slowly.
Said the river: "Ere we two the morning dawn shall see,
You quickly, I slowly, will debouch into the sea."
Wine and Water
Once upon a time, wine was remarking to water:
"You serve the need of the peasant, I—of his master."
Said meek water: "Master would not imbibe you, I think,
Did peasant not give you what he comes to me to drink."
The Master and His Dog
The dog barked all the night, keeping the burglar away;
It got a beating for waking the master, next day.
That night it slept soundly and did the burglar no harm;
He burgled; the dog got caned for not raising alarm.
The Ox Minister
When ox served as minister and governed sensibly,
Matters went slowly, to be sure, but were orderly.
At length the king became bored with the monotony;
Lion gave ox's place to the amusing monkey.
The court was well pleased, and so were the subjects—at first;
For soon joy ended, as matters went from bad to worse.
The lord and the minister laughed, while the poor folk wept.
When disaster after disaster the country swept,
Monkey was overthrown and replaced without delay
With fox, who soon the lord and his subjects did betray.
Neither traitor fox nor amusing monkey survived:
Ox became minister once again, and all revived.
The Humble Lion
'Tis bad at master's court to lie, bad the truth to tell.
Lion, intent on showing all that he was humble,
Called for open reproaches. Said the fox: "Your great vice
Is that you're too kind, too gracious, excessively nice."
The sheep, seeing lion pleased by fox's rebuke, said:
"You are a cruel, voracious tyrant." — and she was dead.
The Inkwell and the Pen
The inkwell and pen disputed in the study nook
Which of the two had written the newly composed book.
The author came in and laughed out loud at what he'd heard,
There are many pens and inkwells like that in the world!
The Peas by the Road
The farmer was vexed by the results of what he'd sowed:
Intruders had eaten the peas he'd raised by the road.
To make good his loss and help himself better get by,
The following year he sowed his peas behind his rye.
Came the harvest; where he'd expected profits ample,
He found the peas had been eaten, and the rye trampled.
Let the old and the young observe measure and beware:
Excessive caution frequently increases one's cares.
Nightingale and Goldfinch
Goldfinch remarked to nightingale, who quietly sat:
"Pity you don't sing long." Nightingale replied to that:
"I do faithfully what nature has bestowed on me.
Better brief good, than long mediocre, melody."
The Ox and the Ants
Ox laughed at the diligent ants doing their small work;
Then he heard one of them utter these notable words:
"It is in work that we workers do repose our trust!
We ants work because we choose; you work because you must."
The Carter and the Butterfly
The cart was bogged down and could move no more through the muck;
The carter and his draft horses could no longer truck.
A butterfly that sat on top of the conveyance
Concluded it was a burden to the cart's advance
And opined, "Compassion is a good habit abroad."
He flew off the cart and bade the peasant: "Go with God!"
Bees and Ants
In close proximity there did dwell two polities:
In ant-hills, industrious ants; and in beehives, bees.
And since good-neighbors' relations do not dampen pride,
There were frequent disputes: which were better organized?
Came autumn, and frightful times for the bees and their homes:
The diligent bee-keeper cut up the honeycombs,
Drove out the inhabitants, and cleared out their pantries:
All vain had been the harvesting efforts of the bees.
And the ants, seeing the sad end to the bees' harvest,
Said: "Sufficiency, rather than plenitude, is best."
The Lamb and the Wolves
Aggression ever finds cause if sufficiently pressed.
Two wolves on the prowl had trapped a lamb in the forest
And were about to pounce. Quoth the lamb: "What right have you?"
"You're toothsome, weak, in the wood." — The wolves dined sans ado.
The Turtle and the Mouse
Mouse pitied turtle, as the latter sat cramped inside
His confining shell; whereupon the turtle replied:
"You keep your palaces, I'll take my tight little house;
It's not impressive, but at least it is mine, friend Mouse."
Physician and Health
A droll thing but difficult to credit, shall I tell:
Once upon a time a physician encountered health;
He was going to the town, and health was departing.
He took fright when he saw it, but as it was nearing,
He inquired of health: "Why do you hurry away?
Where are you going?" Health replied: "Where you do not stay."
The Violet and the Grass
In the shade of spreading trees on a beautiful green
'Mid grass took root a violet, none lovelier seen.
The grass grew tall and broad; the violet, terrified,
Hid as it might, but its scent there was no way to hide.
As the envious sward rejoiced at its neighbor's pass,
The mowers cut down both the violet and the grass.
The Peacock and the Eagle
A peacock fanned out wide his shimmering plumes and preened.
An eagle, soaring on high, as soon as he had seen,
Laughed and swept by. Peacock shrieked—the birds burst out laughing.
"The simpletons," quoth peacock, "they understand nothing."
"Oh, they do," replied eagle, "they value elegance,
But they scorn vanity and laugh at extravagance."
Bread and Sword
As the bread lay next to the sword, the weapon demurred:
"You would certainly show me more respect if you heard
How by night and by day I conscientiously strive
So that you may safely go on keeping men alive."
"I know," said the bread, "the shape of your duty's course:
You defend me less often than you take me by force."
The King and the Scribes
Man and Wolf
Man was traveling in wolfskin when wolf stopped his way.
"Know from my garb," said the man, "what I am, what I may."
The wolf first laughed out loud, then grimly said to the man:
"I know that you are weak, if you need another's skin."
Satin and Cotton
In a draper's shop, satin cloth made light of cotton;
The Steward purchased cotton, the Judge's son—satin.
And since the proprietor of the shop must be paid,
Satin to cotton an exceedingly low bow made.
When time came to pay the debt, and the debtor delayed,
Each year thereafter, cotton a bow to satin made.
The sheep was praising the wolf for all his compassion;
Hearing it, fox asked her: "How is that? In what fashion?"
"Very much so!" says the sheep, "I owe him what I am.
He's mild! He could've eaten me, but just ate my lamb."
Rye sprouted up on land that, until then, fallow lay.
But to what avail when, all about, bramble held sway.
The soil was good, though it had never been touched by plow;
It would have brought forth grain, did the bramble this allow.
- Happy is the man who with equals shares his border!
The Wise Man and the Fool
The fool asked the wise man: "What's intelligence good for?"
The wise man said nought; as the fool importuned the more,
The wise man said: "It is good, I should think for the nonce,
Not to honor such foolish questions with a response."
Pleasant the beginnings, but lamentable the end.
In spring, the oxen to their plowing would not attend;
They would not carry the grain to the barn in the fall;
Came winter, bread ran out, the farmer ate them withal.
The Wolf and the Sheep (2)
A certain wolf, though cautious, yet ravenous withal,
Saw a carcass, advanced and landed in a pitfall.
He sat in the pit, sighing, then all at once heard sheep.
They looked down at the wolf barely breathing in the deep.
At length he spoke, and said with most gentle countenance:
"I didn't fall in, I am down here to do penance —
I'm doing penance for having assaulted, menaced,
For having devoured you..." When the sheep heard this, they asked:
"Come out of the pit!..." "I will not!..." "We will lift you out..."
The wolf demurred but, at the last, yielded to their shout.
The sheep set to work, and so did they set about it
That ere long they had lifted the wolf out of the pit.
The wolf, rescued from the trap, desired his faith to keep,
And so, slashed, strangled and devoured all the foolish sheep.
Having spent at the bottle many a night and day,
The ailing drunkard threw his mugs and glasses away;
He declared wine a tyrant, reviled beer, cursed out mead.
Then, his health restored... he'd no longer abstinence heed.
The Jade and the Steed
The steed disdained the jade that in the morning, each day,
Hauled, to the stallion's stable, both provender and hay.
Wherefore jade said: "Did I not transport your provenders,
Methinks you were more modest, you would not cut capers."
The Man and the Mirrors
The little man looked into an enlarging mirror:
His impressive physique gave him the utmost pleasure.
He thought himself a giant; when he made a stern face,
Someone did this mirror with a reducer replace.
He broke both and now believed not mirrors, little man.
He had learned the truth and measured himself with the span.
The teller of fables was well and truly fatigued,
Yet was it his desire to leave his audience intrigued.
Said he: "I'll tell you another, which you haven't heard:
A fable had ventured abroad, far into the world;
She had gone deep into the woods, and there as she stands
She's beset with hue and cry by cruel, savage brigands.
Beholding the fable very shabbily attired,
The brigands stripped away fable's gown—and Truth transpired."
- Ignacy Krasicki, Bajki: wybór (Fables: a Selection), selected and with introduction by Zdzisław Libera, illustrated with drawings by Gustave Doré, Warsaw, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1974. The volume comprises selections from Krasicki's Fables and Parables (1779) and from his New Fables (published posthumously in 1802).
- It is a Polish commonplace that cobblers are drunkards. The Polish expression is akin to the British "drunk as a lord."
- "Aristus" and "Damon" were conventional names characteristic of 17th- and 18th-century French literature. In Poland they were used particularly often in idyls, satires and comedies. (Note in Krasicki, Bajki: wybór, p. 75.)
- 18th-century calendars, or almanacs, besides much misinformation, offered prognostications of "unlucky days," natural disasters, and other events that were supposed to happen in the near and distant future. These predictions, which generally made reference to scraps of astronomical knowledge, were mostly drawn up by astrology professors at the Kraków and Zamojski Academies. In King w:Stanisław August Poniatowski's day, as a result of long-running efforts by Enlightenment thinkers who more and more boldly advocated Copernicus' astronomy, astrology was finally buried, and calendars were purged of prognostications. (Note in Krasicki, Bajki: wybór, p. 75.) An author of astrological predictions at the Kraków Academy at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries was Michał Falkener.
- This fable may allude to the state of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, surrounded by hostile powers, before and during the Partitions of the Commonwealth in the second half of the 18th century. (Note in Krasicki, Bajki: wybór, p. 76.)
- Polish Original available as EPUB at www.wolnelektury.pl