On death we mortals often run,
Just by the roads we take to shun.
A father’s only heir, a son,
Was over-loved, and doted on
So greatly, that astrology
Was questioned what his fate might be.
The man of stars this caution gave—
That, till twenty years of age,
No lion, even in a cage,
The boy should see,—his life to save.
The sire, to silence every fear
About a life so very dear,
Forbade that any one should let
His son beyond his threshold get.
Within his palace walls, the boy
Might all that heart could wish enjoy—
Might with his mates walk, leap, and run,
And frolic in the wildest fun.
When come of age to love the chase,
That exercise was often depicted
To him as one that brought disgrace,
To which but blackguards were addicted.
But neither warning nor derision
Could change his ardent disposition.
The youth, fierce, restless, full of blood,
Was prompted by the boiling flood
To love the dangers of the wood.
The more opposed, the stronger grew
His mad desire. The cause he knew,
For which he was so closely pent;
And as, wherever he went,
In that magnificent abode,
Both tapestry and canvas showed
The feats he did so much admire,
A painted lion roused his ire.
“Ah, monster!” cried he, in his rage,
It’s you that keep me in my cage.”
With that, he clinched his fist,
To strike the harmless beast—
And did his hand impale
On a hidden nail!
And thus this cherished head,
For which the healing art
But vainly did its part,
Was hurried to the dead,
By caution blindly meant
To shun that sad event.
The poet Aeschylus, it’s said,
By much the same precaution bled.
A conjuror foretold
A house would crush him in its fall;—
Forth sallied he, though old,
From town and roof-protected hall,
And took his lodgings, wet or dry,
Abroad, beneath the open sky.
An eagle, bearing through the air
A tortoise for her household fare,
Which first she wished to break,
The creature dropped, by sad mistake,
Plump on the poet’s forehead bare,
As if it were a naked rock—
To Aeschylus a fatal shock!
From these examples, it appears,
This art, if true in any wise,
Makes men fulfil the very fears
Engendered by its prophecies.
But from this charge I justify,
By branding it a total lie.
I don’t believe that Nature’s powers
Have tied her hands or pinioned ours,
By marking on the heavenly vault
Our fate without mistake or fault.
That fate depends on conjunctions
Of places, persons, times, and tracks,
And not on the functions
Of more or less of quacks.
A king and clown beneath one planet’s nod
Are born; one wields a sceptre, one a hod.
But it is Jupiter that wills it so!
And who is he? A soulless clod.
How can he cause such different powers to flow
On the aforesaid mortals here below?
And how, indeed, to this far distant ball
Can he impart his energy at all?—
How pierce the ether deeps profound,
The sun and globes that whirl around?
A mote might turn his potent ray
For ever from its earthward way.
Will find, it, then, in starry cope,
The makers of the horoscope?
The war with which all Europe’s now afflicted—
Deserves it not by them to’ve been predicted?
Yet heard we not a whisper of it,
Before it came, from any prophet.
The suddenness of passion’s gush,
Of wayward life the headlong rush,—
Permit they that the feeble ray
Of twinkling planet, far away,
Should trace our winding, zigzag course?
And yet this planetary force,
As steady as it is unknown,
These fools would make our guide alone—
Of all our varied life the source!
Such doubtful facts as I relate—
The petted child’s and poet’s fate—
Our argument may well admit.
The blindest man that lives in France,
The smallest mark would doubtless hit—
Once in a thousand times—by chance.
The Horoscope by Jean de La Fontaine’s Fables in Book 8