A mouse once from an owl’s beak fell;
I had not have picked it up, I wis;
A Brahmin did it: very well;
Each country has its prejudice.
The mouse, indeed, was sadly bruised.
Although, as neighbours, we are used
To be more kind to many others,
The Brahmins treat the mice as brothers.
The notion haunts their heads, that when
The soul goes forth from dying men,
It enters worm, or bird, or beast,
As Providence or Fate is pleased;
And on this mystery rests their law,
Which from Pythagoras they’re said to draw.
And hence the Brahmin kindly prayed
To one who knew the wizard’s trade,
To give the creature, wounded sore,
The form in which it lodged before.
Forthwith the mouse became a maid,
Of years about fifteen;
A lovelier was never seen.
She would have waked, I believe,
In Priam’s son, a fiercer flame
Than did the beauteous Grecian dame.
Surprised at such a novelty,
The Brahmin to the damsel cried,
“Your choice is free;
For every he
Will seek you for his bride.”
Said she, “Am I to have a voice?
The strongest, then, shall be my choice.”
“O sun!” the Brahmin cried, “this maid is thine,
And you shall be a son-in-law of mine.”
“No,” said the sun, “this murky cloud, it seems,
In strength exceeds me, since he hides my beams;
And him I counsel you to take.”
Again the reverend Brahmin spake
“O cloud, on-flying with your stores of water,
Pray wast you born to wed my daughter?”
“Ah, no, alas! for, you may see,
The wind is far too strong for me.
My claims with Boreas’ to compare,
I must confess, I do not dare.”
“O wind,” then cried the Brahmin, vexed,
And wondering what would hinder next,
“Approach, and, with your sweetest air,
Embrace-possess—the fairest fair.”
The wind, enraptured, there blew;
A mountain stopped him as he flew,
To him now passed the tennis ball,
And from him to a creature small.
Said he, “I had wed the maid, but that
I have had a quarrel with the rat.
A fool were I to take the bride
From one so sure to pierce my side.”
The rat! It thrilled the damsel’s ear;
To name at once seemed sweet and dear.
The rat! It was one of Cupid’s blows;
The like full many a maiden knows;
But all of this beneath the rose.
One smacks ever of the place
Where first he showed the world his face.
Thus far the fable’s clear as light;
But, if we take a nearer sight,
There lurks within its drapery
Somewhat of graceless sophistry;
For who, that worships even the glorious sun,
Would not prefer to wed some cooler one?
And does a flea’s exceed a giant’s might,
Because the former can the latter bite?
And, by the rule of strength, the rat
Had sent his bride to wed the cat;
From cat to dog, and onward still
To wolf or tiger, if you will:
Indeed, the fabulist might run
A circle backward to the sun.
But to the change the tale supposes,
In learned phrase, metempsychosis.
The very thing the wizard did
Its falsity exposes
If that indeed were ever hid.
According to the Brahmin’s plan,
The proud aspiring soul of man,
And souls that dwell in humbler forms
Of rats and mice, and even worms,
All issue from a common source,
And, hence, they are the same of course.
Unequal but by accident
Of organ and of tenement,
They use one pair of legs, or two,
Or even with none contrive to do,
As tyrant matter binds them to.
Why, then, could not so fine a frame
Constrain its heavenly guest
To wed the solar flame?
A rat her love possessed.
In all respects, compared and weighed,
The souls of men and souls of mice
Quite different are made,
Unlike in sort as well as size.
Each fits and fills its destined part
As Heaven does well provide;
Nor witch, nor fiend, nor magic art,
Can set their laws aside.
The Mouse Changed into a Maid by Jean de La Fontaine’s Fables in Book 9