Fables and Parables  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Fables and Parables (Bajki i przypowieści, 1779), by Ignacy Krasicki (1735–1801), is a work in a long international tradition of fable-writing that reaches back to antiquity.

Emulating the fables of the ancient Greek Aesop, the Macedonian-Roman Phaedrus, the Polish Biernat of Lublin, and the Frenchman Jean de La Fontaine, and anticipating Russia's Ivan Krylov, the Pole Krasicki populates his fables with anthropomorphized animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature, in epigrammatic expressions of a skeptical, ironic view of the world.

That view is informed by Krasicki's observations of human nature and of national and international politics in his day—including the predicament of the expiring Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Just seven years earlier (1772), the Commonwealth had experienced the first of three partitions that would, by 1795, totally expunge the Commonwealth from the political map of Europe.

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth would fall victim to the aggression of three powerful neighbors much as, in Krasicki's fable of "The Lamb and the Wolves," the lamb falls victim to the two wolves. The First Partition had rendered Krasicki—an intimate of Poland's last king, Stanisław August Poniatowski—involuntarily a subject of that Partition's instigator, Prussia's King Frederick II ("the Great"). Krasicki would, unlike Frederick, survive to witness the final dismemberment of the Commonwealth.

Krasicki's parables (e.g., "Abuzei and Tair," "The Blind Man and the Lame," "Son and Father," "The Farmer," "Child and Father," "The Master and His Dog," "The King and the Scribes," and "The Drunkard") do not, by definition, employ the anthropomorphization that characterizes the fables. Instead, his parables point elegant moral lessons drawn from more quotidian human life.

Krasicki's, writes Czesław Miłosz, "is a world where the strong win and the weak lose in a sort of immutable order... Reason is exalted as the human equivalent of animal strength: the [clever] survive, the stupid perish."

The Fables and Parables are written as 13-syllable lines, in couplets that rhyme aa bb... They range in length from 2 to 18 lines. The introductory invocation "To the Children," however, while employing the same rhyme scheme, uses lines of 11 syllables.

Curiously, the fables include two with the identical title, "The Stream and the River"; two with the identical title, "The Lion and the Beasts"; and two with the identical title, "The Wolf and the Sheep."

Critics generally prefer Krasicki's more concise Fables and Parables (1779), sampled here, over his later New Fables, published posthumously in 1802. This is consistent with Krasicki's own dictum in On Versification and Versifiers that "A fable should be brief, clear and, so far as possible, preserve the truth."

In the same treatise, Krasicki explains that a fable "is a story commonly ascribed to animals, that people who read it might take instruction from [the animals'] example or speech...; it originated in eastern lands where supreme governance reposed in the hands of autocrats. Thus, when it was feared to proclaim the truth openly, simulacra were employed in fables so that—if only in this way—the truth might be agreeable alike to the ruled and to the rulers."

Below are 11 samples of Krasicki's Fables and Parables (1779) in English translation by Christopher Kasparek. Another 51 items may be found at Wikisource.

Contents

Samples

Abuzei and Tair

"Congratulate me, father," said Tair, "I prosper.
Tomorrow I am to become the Sultan's brother-
In-law
and hunt with him." Quoth father: "All does alter,
Your lord's good graces, women's favor, autumn weather."
He had guessed aright, the son's plans did not turn out well:
The Sultan withheld his sister, all day the rain fell.

The Eagle and the Hawk

Eagle, not wishing to incommode himself with chase,
Decided to send hawk after sparrows in his place.
Hawk brought him the sparrows, eagle ate them with pleasure;
At last, not quite sated with the dainties to measure,
Feeling his appetite growing keener and keener —
Eagle ate fowl for breakfast, the fowler for dinner.

The Little Fish and the Pike

Espying a worm in the water, the little fish
Did greatly regret the worm could not become his dish.
Up came a pike and made his preparations to dine;
He swallowed both worm and hook, which he failed to divine.
As the angler pulled ashore his magnificent prize,
Quoth the little fish: "Sometimes good to be undersize."

The Farmer

A farmer, bent on doubling the profits from his land,
Proceeded to set his soil a two-harvest demand.
Too intent thus on profit, harm himself he must needs:
Instead of corn, he now reaps corn cockle and weeds.

Two Dogs

"Why do I freeze out of doors while you sleep on a rug?"
Inquired the bobtail mongrel of the fat, sleek pug.
"I have run of the house, and you the run of a chain,"
The pug replied, "because you serve, while I entertain."

The Master and His Dog

The dog barked all the night, keeping the burglar away;
It got a beating for waking the master, next day.
That night it slept soundly and did the burglar no harm;
He burgled; the dog got caned for not raising alarm.

The Humble Lion

'Tis bad at master's court to lie, bad the truth to tell.
Lion, intent on showing all that he was humble,
Called for open reproaches. Said the fox: "Your great vice
Is that you're too kind, too gracious, excessively nice."
The sheep, seeing lion pleased by fox's rebuke, said:
"You are a cruel, voracious tyrant." — and she was dead.

The Lamb and the Wolves

Aggression ever finds cause if sufficiently pressed.
Two wolves on the prowl had trapped a lamb in the forest
And were about to pounce. Quoth the lamb: "What right have you?"
"You're toothsome, weak, in the wood." — The wolves dined sans ado.

Man and Wolf

Man was traveling in wolfskin when wolf stopped his way.
"Know from my garb," said the man, "what I am, what I may."
The wolf first laughed out loud, then grimly said to the man:
"I know that you are weak, if you need another's skin."

Compassion

The sheep was praising the wolf for all his compassion;
Hearing it, fox asked her: "How is that? In what fashion?"
"Very much so!" says the sheep, "I owe him what I am.
He's mild! He could've eaten me, but just ate my lamb."

Refractory Oxen

Pleasant the beginnings, but lamentable the end.
In spring, the oxen to their plowing would not attend;
They would not carry the grain to the barn in the fall;
Came winter, bread ran out, the farmer ate them withal.

Translated from the Polish by Christopher Kasparek.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Fables and Parables" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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