Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Smart Fables

Kit Smart was one of the most brilliant English poets of the eighteenth century. He is most famous for his poem, Jubilate Agno, written while in the madhouse; and, more particularly, for the praise of his cat Jeoffry in Fragment B3:

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer....

And so on. He has a number of other poems, however. Here are three poems from his poetic translation of Phaedrus's Fables:

(Fable IV from Book I: The DOG in the RIVER)

The churl that wants another's fare
Deserves at least to lose his share.
As thro' the stream a dog convey'd
A piece of meat, he spy'd his shade
In the clear mirrour of the flood;
And thinking it was flesh and blood,
Snapp'd to deprive him of the treat--
But mark the glutton's self-defeat
Miss'd both another's and his own,
Both shade and substance, beef and bone.

(Fable II from Book IV: The FOX and the GRAPES)

An hungry Fox with fierce attack
Sprang on a Vine, but tumbled back,
Nor could attain the point in view,
So near the sky the bunches grew.
As he went off, 'They're scurvy stuff,
(Says he) and not half ripe enough--
And I've more rev'rence for my tripes,
Than to torment them with the gripes.'
For those this tale is very pat,
Who lessen what they can't come at.

(Fable XVIII from Book IV: The MOUNTAIN in Labour)

The Mountain labour'd, groaning loud,
On which a num'rous gaping crowd
Of noodles came to see the sight,
When lo! a mouse was brought to light!
This tale's for men of swagg'ring cast,
Whose threats, voluminous and vast,
With all their verse and all their prose,
Can make but little on't, God knows.

(I chose this last because one of my favorite Latin quotations is Horace's parturiunt montes, nascitur ridiculus mus : the mountains are in labor, a ridiculous mouse is born.)

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