A man whose credit failed, and what was worse,
Who lodged the devil in his purse,—
That is to say, lodged nothing there,—
By self-suspension in the air
Concluded his accounts to square,
Since, should he not, he understood,
From various tokens, famine would—
A death for which no mortal wight
Had ever any appetite.
A ruin, crowned with ivy green,
Was of his tragedy the scene.
His hangman’s noose he duly tied,
And then to drive a nail he tried;—
But by his blows the wall gave way,
Now tremulous and old,
Disclosing to the light of day
A sum of hidden gold.
He clutched it up, and left Despair
To struggle with his halter there.
Nor did the much delighted man
Even stop to count it as he ran.
But, while he went, the owner came,
Who loved it with a secret flame,
Too much indeed for kissing,—
And found his money—missing!
“O Heavens!” he cried, “shall I
Such riches lose, and still not die?
Shall I not hang?—as I, in fact,
Might justly do if cord I lacked;
But now, without expense, I can;
This cord here only lacks a man.”
The saving was no saving clause;
It suffered not his heart to falter,
Till it reached his final pause
As full possessor of the halter,—
It’s thus the miser often grieves:
Whoever the benefit receives
Of what he owns, he never must—
Mere treasurer for thieves,
Or relatives, or dust.
But what say we about the trade
In this affair by Fortune made?
Why, what but that it was just like her!
In freaks like this delights she.
The shorter any turn may be,
The better it is sure to strike her.
It fills that goddess full of glee
A self-suspended man to see;
And that it does especially,
When made so unexpectedly.
The Treasure and the Two Men by Jean de La Fontaine’s Fables in Book 9
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