No flowery path to glory leads.
This truth no better voucher needs
Than Hercules, of mighty deeds.
Few demigods, the tomes of fable
Reveal to us as being able
Such weight of task work to endure:
In history, I find still fewer.
One such, however, here behold
A knight by talisman made bold,
Within the regions of romance,
To seek adventures with the lance.
There rode a comrade at his ride,
And as they rode they both espied
This writing on a post:
“Would see, sir valiant knight,
A thing whereof the sight
No errant yet can boast?
You have this torrent but to ford,
And, lifting up, alone,
The elephant of stone
On its margin shored,
Upbear it to the mountain’s brow,
Round which, aloft before you now,
The misty chaplets wreathe
Not stopping once to breathe.”
One knight, whose nostrils bled,
Betokening courage fled,
Cried out, “What if that current’s sweep
Not only rapid be, but deep!
And grant it crossed, pray, why encumber
One’s arms with that unwieldy lumber,
An elephant of stone?
Perhaps the artist may have done
His work in such a way, that one
Might lug it twice its length;
But then to reach yon mountain top,
And that without a breathing stop,
Were surely past a mortal’s strength
Unless, indeed, it be no bigger
Than some wee, pigmy, dwarfish figure,
Which one would head a cane withal;
And if to this the case should fall,
The adventurer’s honour would be small!
This posting seems to me a trap,
Or riddle for some greenish chap;
I therefore leave the whole to you.”
The doubtful reasoner onward hies.
With heart resolved, in spite of eyes,
The other boldly dashes through;
Nor depth of flood nor force
Can stop his onward course.
He finds the elephant of stone;
He lifts it all alone;
Without a breathing stop,
He bears it to the top
Of that steep mount, and sees there
A high walled city, great and fair.
Out-cried the elephant and hushed;
But forth in arms the people rushed.
A knight less bold had surely fled;
But he, so far from turning back,
His course right onward sped,
Resolved himself to make attack,
And die but with the bravest dead.
Amazed was he to hear that band
Proclaim him monarch of their land,
And welcome him, in place of one
Whose death had left a vacant throne!
In sooth, he lent a gracious ear,
Meanwhile expressing modest fear,
Lest such a load of royal care
Should be too great for him to bear.
And so, exactly, Sixtus said,
When first the pope’s tiara pressed his head;
(Though, is it such a grievous thing
To be a pope, or be a king?)
But days were few before they read it,
That with but little truth he said it.
Blind Fortune follows daring blind.
Often executes the wisest man,
Before yet the wisdom of his mind
Is tasked his means or end to scan.
The Two Adventurers and the Talisman – Jean de La Fontaine Fables