Saturday 20 September 2014

The Sycophantic Fox and the Gullible Raven

I'm a huge fan of the little-known American poet Guy Wetmore Caryl (1873-1904) a light versifier of unequalled genius. His speciality was adapting Aesop's Fables into bouncy, ingeniously rhymed and instantly loveable verses. Here's an example from 1902:

The Sycophantic Fox and the Gullible Raven

A raven sat upon a tree,

      And not a word he spoke, for
His beak contained a piece of Brie,
      Or, maybe, it was Roquefort:
            We’ll make it any kind you please—
            At all events, it was a cheese.

Beneath the tree’s umbrageous limb
      A hungry fox sat smiling;
He saw the raven watching him,
      And spoke in words beguiling.
            “J’admire,” said he, “ton beau plumage.”
            (The which was simply persiflage.)

Two things there are, no doubt you know,
      To which a fox is used:
A rooster that is bound to crow,
      A crow that’s bound to roost,
            And whichsoever he espies
            He tells the most unblushing lies.

“Sweet fowl,” he said, “I understand
      You’re more than merely natty,
I hear you sing to beat the band
      And Adelina Patti.
            Pray render with your liquid tongue
            A bit from Götterdammerung.”

This subtle speech was aimed to please
      The crow, and it succeeded:
He thought no bird in all the trees
      Could sing as well as he did.
            In flattery completely doused,
            He gave the “Jewel Song” from Faust.

But gravitation’s law, of course,
      As Isaac Newton showed it,
Exerted on the cheese its force,
      And elsewhere soon bestowed it.
            In fact, there is no need to tell
            What happened when to earth it fell.

I blush to add that when the bird
      Took in the situation
He said one brief, emphatic word,
      Unfit for publication.
            The fox was greatly startled, but
            He only sighed and answered “Tut.”

The Moral is: A fox is bound
      To be a shameless sinner.
And also: When the cheese comes round
      You know it’s after dinner.
            But (what is only known to few)
            The fox is after dinner, too.

You can find a huge selection of his verses here:

The best? For my money it's his take on the Bluebeard story: 

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