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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Lark and the Farmer

By Jean de La Fontaine (1621–1695)

Translation of Elizur Wright

“DEPEND upon yourself alone,”

Has to a common proverb grown.

’Tis thus confirmed in Æsop’s way:—

The larks to build their nests are seen

Among the wheat-crops young and green;

That is to say,

What time all things, dame Nature heeding,

Betake themselves to love and breeding,—

The monstrous whales and sharks

Beneath the briny flood,

The tigers in the wood,

And in the fields, the larks.

One she, however, of these last,

Found more than half the springtime past

Without the taste of springtime pleasures;

When firmly she set up her will

That she would be a mother still,

And resolutely took her measures;—

First, got herself by Hymen matched;

Then built her nest, laid, sat, and hatched.

All went as well as such things could;

The wheat crop ripening ere the brood

Were strong enough to take their flight.

Aware how perilous their plight,

The lark went out to search for food,

And told her young to listen well,

And keep a constant sentinel.

“The owner of this field,” said she,

“Will come, I know, his grain to see.

Hear all he says: we little birds

Must shape our conduct by his words.”

No sooner was the lark away

Than came the owner with his son.

“This wheat is ripe,” said he: “now run

And give our friends a call

To bring their sickles all,

And help us, great and small,

To-morrow, at the break of day.”

The lark, returning, found no harm,

Except her nest in wild alarm.

Says one, “We heard the owner say,

‘Go, give our friends a call

To help to-morrow, break of day.’”

Replied the lark, “If that is all,

We need not be in any fear,

But only keep an open ear.

As gay as larks now eat your victuals.”—

They ate and slept, the great and littles.

The dawn arrives, but not the friends;

The lark soars up; the owner wends

His usual round to view his land.

“This grain,” says he, “ought not to stand.

Our friends do wrong; and so does he

Who trusts that friends will friendly be.

My son, go call our kith and kin

To help us get our harvest in.”

This second order made

The little larks still more afraid.

“He sent for kindred, mother, by his son:

The work will now indeed be done.”

“No, darlings: go to sleep;

Our lowly nest we’ll keep.”

With reason said, for kindred there came none.

Thus, tired of expectation vain,

Once more the owner viewed his grain.

“My son,” said he, “we’re surely fools

To wait for other people’s tools;

As if one might, for love or pelf,

Have friends more faithful than himself!

Engrave this lesson deep, my son.

And know you now what must be done?

We must ourselves our sickles bring,

And while the larks their matins sing,

Begin the work; and on this plan,

Get in our harvest as we can.”

This plan the lark no sooner knew,

Than, “Now’s the time,” she said, “my chicks:”

And taking little time to fix,

Away they flew;

All fluttering, soaring, often grounding,

Decamped without a trumpet sounding.