Four voyagers to parts unknown,
On shore, not far from naked, thrown
By furious waves,—a merchant, now undone,
A noble, shepherd, and a monarch’s son,—
Brought to the lot of Belisarius,
Their wants supplied on alms precarious.
To tell what fates, and winds, and weather,
Had brought these mortals all together,
Though from far distant points abscinded,
Would make my tale long-winded.
Suffice to say, that, by a fountain met,
In council grave these outcasts held debate.
The prince enlarged, in an oration set,
On the mis’ries that befall the great.
The shepherd deemed it best to cast
Off thought of all misfortune past,
And each to do the best he could,
In efforts for the common weal.
“Did ever a repining mood,”
He added, “a misfortune heal?
Toil, friends, will take us back to Rome,
Or make us here as good a home.”
A shepherd so to speak! a shepherd? What!
As though crowned heads were not,
By Heaven’s appointment fit,
The sole receptacles of wit!
As though a shepherd could be deeper,
In thought or knowledge, than his sheep are!
The three, however, at once approved his plan,
Wrecked as they were on shores American.
“I’ll teach arithmetic,” the merchant said,—
Its rules, of course, well seated in his head,—
“For monthly pay.” The prince replied, “And I
Will teach political economy.”
“And I,” the noble said, “in heraldry
Well versed, will open for that branch a school—”
As if, beyond a thousand leagues of sea,
That senseless jargon could befool!
“My friends, you talk like men,”
The shepherd cried, “but then
The month has thirty days; till they are spent,
Are we on your faith to keep full Lent?
The hope you give is truly good;
But, before it comes, we starve for food!
Pray tell me, if you can divine,
On what, tomorrow, we shall dine;
Or tell me, rather, whence we may
Obtain a supper for today.
This point, if truth should be confessed,
Is first, and vital to the rest.
Your science short in this respect,
My hands shall cover the defect.—”
This said, the nearest woods he sought,
And thence for market fagots brought,
Whose price that day, and eke the next,
Relieved the company perplexed—
Forbidding that, by fasting, they should go
To use their talents in the world below.
We learn from this adventure’s course,
There needs but little skill to get a living.
Thanks to the gifts of Nature’s giving,
Our hands are much the readiest resource.
The Merchant, the Noble, the Shepherd, and the King’s Son – Jean de La Fontaine Fables – Book 10