The Fables of Florian (tr. Phelps)/The White Elephant

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FABLE XXXIX.
THE WHITE ELEPHANT.

Far in a certain eastern land
The people in great rev'rence stand
In presence of the elephant.
He's lodg'd in style most elegant
(That is, if so the brute be white),
And for him men fierce battles fight:
       For prize so rare
       States go to war;
He's always serv'd on golden plate;
And so divine is his estate
That when folks meet him walking forth,
They bow before him to the earth.

One of these people's pets one day
(A sound clear thinker by the way)
To his conductor said:—"I pray
Why are such honors shown to me?
For I am but a beast, you see."
"Ah! you're too humble," said his guide:
       "We know what's due
       To one like you;
And all our India knows beside,
That when our heroes come to die,
Their souls into your body fly,
And there for some time must endure.
       Priests tell us so,
       And hence we know.
       The thing is sure."

"What! do you think us heroes then?"
"Yes; so believe our best of men."
"And should we, if it were not so,
       Be free to go
And wander through the wide domain
Of our own native woods again?"
"Oh yes, my Lord."—"Then let me go;
For you're deceiv'd, as I can show:—
Our race is proud, yet still caressing;
Gentle, though great power possessing;
We never hurt, as you may see,
Nor injure those less strong than we:
Our hearts can love, yet, from lust free,
Observe the laws of chastity;
And ne'er do we our honors earn
By loss of virtue in return.
Since this is so, how can you then,
Think we possess the souls of men?"