The Complete Fables of Jean de La Fontaine

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Overview


Inspired new translations of the work of one of the world's greatest fabulists

Told in an elegant style, Jean de la Fontaine's (1621-95) charming animal fables depict sly foxes and scheming cats, vain birds and greedy wolves, all of which subtly express his penetrating insights into French society and the beasts found in all of us. Norman R. Shapiro has been translating La Fontaine's fables for over twenty years, capturing the original work's lively mix of plain and archaic language. This newly complete translation is destined to set the English standard for this work.

Awarded the Lewis Galantière Prize by the American Translators Association, 2008.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The translations are not literal but instead convey the spirit of the 17th-century writer. The volume includes . . . extensive notes offering comments and explicating sources, references, translation difficulties, and so on; and lovely illustrations by David Schorr. Highly recommended."--Choice

"Ably translated from the French by Shapiro, the voices of the animals, birds, insects (and even the occasional human) who populate La Fontaine's fables come alive in rhyme and rhythm that develop the traditional tales." --Library Journal

"In Shapiro's translations, meaning and sound patterns flow into each other with metrical control and create La Fontaine's soothing melody, which is reinforced through a never-ending wit and humor to articulate and to overcome his distaste for human folly."--Translation Review

Library Journal

Ably translated from the French by Shapiro (Romance languages & literature, Wesleyan Univ.), the voices of the animals, birds, insects (and even the occasional human) who populate La Fontaine's fables come alive in rhyme and rhythm that develop the traditional tales. Some rhyme seems technically forced, with line breaks in awkward places: "cheese; it" to rhyme with "seize it"; the awkward "circumspecter" to rhyme with "protector"; "forasmuch, it" coupled with "touch it." The rhythm, on sight reading, is also sometimes uneven: "They tell about two thieves who fought/Over a stolen ass: one thought/It should be kept." Yet somehow these imperfections merely enhance the humor and, when read aloud, both rhyme and rhythm flow well, perhaps even better than more perfect poetic versions. And since these fables are now, as they always have been, at their best in oral performance, that is an asset. For libraries lacking a collection of La Fontaine's fables, needing a new copy, or looking for a comprehensive single volume, this one will do nicely.
—Katherine K. Koenig

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780252031441
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press
  • Publication date: 9/17/2007
  • Pages: 504
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Read an Excerpt

The Complete Fables of Jean de La Fontaine


By Jean de La Fontaine

University of Illinois Press

Copyright © 2007 Norman R. Shapiro
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-252-07381-6


Preface

I am a self-confessed La Fontaine addict. Unlike other addictions, this one is quite harmless. It even has an upside. My translations can help introduce those with limited or no French to the genius of the genial fabulist; and even, perhaps-though doubtful-improve the behavior of a reader or two. ("Doubtful," because, though I myself have translated many hundreds of fables over the years, despite all their edifying content I am still as flawed a human being as I was when I began. And anyway, it is unlikely that La Fontaine's intent for his little moral tales was truly as didactic as his first six books would have us believe. Their artistry far transcends their morality.)

But it has a definite downside too, by definition. La Fontaine's oeuvre, after all, like any author's, is finite. When, in 1988, I brought out my collection Fifty Fables of La Fontaine, even though I had no conscious intention at the time of doing another, the possibility of continuing to feed my happy addiction was always there. It surfaced with Fifty More Fables in 1998; and again, with Once Again, La Fontaine, a couple of years later. After each backsliding, though, I dutifully resolved that I would reform.

So much for resolutions. I went on, in my all-too-human frailty, to complete the remaining fourscore a couple of years ago, blithely ignoring the fact that the supply would thereby dry up. (And, to the best of my knowledge, there are no treatment centers to deal with La Fontaine addiction.) There are, to be sure, other competent, attractive, even thoroughly engaging French fable writers-scores and scores of them, in fact, over the centuries. And I have dealt with many. But there is only one La Fontaine. I can, of course, hope that researchers may eventually discover a trove of as yet unknown La Fontaine fables. But even that unlikely serendipity would be only a temporary solution at best. And so my "collaboration" with him, while an ongoing joy, is tempered by the knowledge that it now exists in retrospect and not in anticipation. I am both enriched by the past and saddened by its finality.

That confessed, what I present here is the integral fruit of that benignly compelling collaboration with this dean of French fabulists: translations-versions? re-creations?-of his complete Fables, in the sweep of their twelve books extending over his entire literary life, from 1668 to 1694; developing from the child-friendly and uncomplicated minidramas of the earliest, through narratives of greater philosophical and literary complexity-hardly children's fare; and even unto the lengthy but never ponderous works in the late books. Some of these latter are not, in fact, "fables" at all, but rather contes-tales in the style of his often licentious Contes et nouvelles en vers. But who am I to argue? Included with the fables since their first publication (by either La Fontaine or his publisher), they are traditionally part of the corpus; and for the sake of truth in advertising I include them in the announced completeness of the present collection. I hope readers will be as undaunted by "Philemon and Baucis," "The Daughters of Mineas," and the several others, as by "Maître Corbeau, sur un arbre perché ..." and his quite different ilk, which are much more readily committed to the memory of generations of French school children. They will be rewarded with a view of La Fontaine's narrative talent that literary histories often fail to mention but that shows many of the same qualities that make him unique.

A few words are in order concerning my own philosophy as a translator, especially of verse, and, more especially, of La Fontaine's. Without embarking on a screed-like discussion of the "rhyme-and-meter versus free-verse" controversy between "formalists" and "literalists," which will never lose steam among Translation Studies adepts, I would say only that for me-and individual taste is crucial here-to render formal (i.e., rhymed and metered) verse into anything but similar English is tantamount to artistic sacrilege. If the "message" is all the reader wants, a prose (or prosy) rendition is fine. The Lambs' Tales from Shakespeare, I might point out hyperbolically, does serve a valuable purpose, after all. But the message is only part of a poet's artifact. If he or she clothes it in rhymed and metered verse, to do less is to betray at least part of its essence and to become the proverbial translator-cum-traitor, all other things being equal. Granted, no translation will ever "reproduce" the original exactly, but why should it? That is not the translator's purpose. What he or she aims to do is to create a self-contained, self-standing work, one that has an almost mystical connection with the original, but a work that, ostensibly independent, transmits, to whatever degree it can, its music as well as its message. Or, in the words of Seamus Heaney, "the tone" as well as "the tune." A translator tries to do this without sacrificing either to the other. The product must be seamless, and, not calling attention to itself except by choice, must sound as unforced and, indeed, inevitable, as the text that spawned it.

In translating La Fontaine, the preceding observations are especially pertinent. His free-and-easy vers libres (i.e., freeish, not free, verse, in seventeenth-century usage), for all their liberty-their run-on lines, their natural speech rhythms, their inner rhymes and melodic repetitions-are no less set against an underlying metrical grid that constrains and intensifies that freedom. To render them into a rhymeless, meterless English would be rather like turning Shakespeare's blank verse iambics into French rhymed octosyllabic couplets, or Dante's terza rima into sprightly limericks. It's safe to say that something would be lost... La Fontaine's vehicle is as much a part of his organic whole as are his subjects and his style. He is always there, at the reader's elbow, watching, with a complicitous wink and nod, the reaction to a bit of stylistic liberty, an unexpected archaism, an egregious rhyme, a sudden change of meter or line length for dramatic impact. Even, at times, the introduction of a one- or two-syllable word to function as an entire line. To ignore such bits of (deceptively?) casual-sounding inspiration would, for me at least, be unthinkable.

Now, this does not mean that I think the translator should try to follow his form with a slavish fidelity. For La Fontaine, as for generations of French versifiers before, during, and after, the standard poetic line is the twelve-syllable alexandrine. But he is also generous in adding to the mix a variety of decasyllables, octosyllables, and even shorter lines, not to mention a spate of so-called impair (uneven-numbered) lines. All for conscious (or perhaps even unconscious, instinctive) effect. And all in an effort to maintain the naturalness of prose in the formal but unobtrusive trappings of verse. In English poetry, as Pope tells us, the twelve-syllable line is overlong and heavy. Occasional use can be effective, as it is in Pope's own picturesquely sarcastic example: "that like a wounded snake drags its slow length along ..." But it makes more aesthetic sense to use its canonical English equivalent, the iambic pentameter, and to mold it flexibly into a convincing whole, with recourse to lines of other lengths as the rhetorical and dramatic situation demands.

In other words, the reader who troubles to compare my individual lines with La Fontaine's will not usually find a one-for-one correspondence. Such an aping of his line lengths, although perhaps a virtuoso accomplishment, would be an artistically useless one, since, except for a few set pieces in quatrains, he follows no recognizable formal patterns himself. His prosodic freedom-like the freedom of the natural universe in which his characters live their slices of life for us-is, in fact, one of his hallmarks and one of his greatest charms. Some translators (and readers) will disagree. So be it. Here I stand. Others, with as much of a claim to credibility, stand elsewhere.

Let the reader decide ...

* * *

My thanks to my many staunch friends and colleagues for assistance both practical and aesthetic. Evelyn Singer Simha has, as ever, been foremost among them, and exemplary in every regard, with her usual-unusual!-generously proffered advice; and Caldwell Titcomb has always been ready with valuable observations, linguistic and historical.

Most of these translations were written in the comfort of Adams House, Harvard University, where, thanks to the hospitality of its comasters, Doctors Judy and Sean Palfrey, and their assistant victoria Macy, I enjoy the position of writer-in-residence. Let it be said that my friends on its dining hall staff have also played a very sustaining and tasteful role.

My own university, Wesleyan, has likewise been most supportive with a number of grants, especially one founded by my late colleague Professor Joseph McMahon in memory of his parents. Such help has been invaluable, as has the much appreciated interest of Tom Radko and Suzanna Tamminen of the Wesleyan University Press. I am no less indebted to Sylvia and Allan kliman for their encouragement; to Michael Weidman, French Wall, Todd Houle, and Glenn Carlson for their electronic know-how; to Rosalind Eastaway and Linda Cummings for frequent secretarial help; and to a bevy of research assistants-Sophie Hermann, Rachel Hoffman Bengtzen, and Daniela Cammack-for their efficiency and good cheer.

I should like also to acknowledge that the idea of this complete edition was the inspiration of Dr. Willis Regier, who, with his staff at the University of Illinois Press-especially Cope Cumpston and Dawn McIlvain-has been most cooperative and supportive. To each and all, my gratitude, with a special word of appreciation to enthusiastic fablephile Liz Dulany for getting the ball rolling in the first place. And, of course, my thanks to colleague and frequent past collaborator David Schorr, whose whimsical graphic talents provide such fitting company for La Fontaine's verbal art, as well as to John Hollander for his appreciative and always appreciated insights.

* * *

Henri Regnier's eleven-volume critical edition Oeuvres de J. de la Fontaine (rev. ed. [Paris: Hachette, 1883-92]), replete with copious annotations, has served as source of many of my notes. I have chosen to prepare my versions from the French text of the Fables as presented by Ferdinand Gohin in the Association Guillaume Budé's two-volume edition, Oeuvres complètes de La Fontaine (Paris: Société des Belles Lettres, 1934), which purports to be a faithful representation of the last edition corrected by La Fontaine himself.

Publication of this book has been aided by a grant from the Thomas and Catharine McMahon Fund of Wesleyan University, established through the generosity of the late Joseph McMahon.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Complete Fables of Jean de La Fontaine by Jean de La Fontaine Copyright © 2007 by Norman R. Shapiro. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Translator's Preface....................xvii
Introduction by John Hollander....................xxiii
The Fables For Monseigneur le Dauphin....................1
BOOK I The Cricket and the Ant....................5
The Crow and the Fox....................5
The Frog Who Would Grow as Big as the Ox....................6
The Two Mules....................6
The Wolf and the Hound....................7
The Heifer, the Goat, and the Lamb in Consort with the Lion....................8
The Beggar's Sack....................9
The Swallow and the Little Birds....................10
The City Rat and the Country Rat....................12
The Wolf and the Lamb....................13
The Man and His Image....................14
The Dragon with Many Heads and the Dragon with Many Tails....................15
The Thieves and the Ass....................16
Simonides Saved by the Gods....................17
Death and the Wretched Man & Death and the Woodsman....................19
The Middle-aged Man and His Two Mistresses....................21
The Fox and the Stork....................22
The Child and the Schoolmaster....................23
The Cock and the Pearl....................24
The Hornets and the Honeybees....................24
The Oak and the Reed....................25
BOOK II Against Those with Too Difficult Tastes....................29
The Rats in Council Assembled....................31
The Wolf Pleading against the Fox before the Ape....................32
The Two Bulls and a Frog....................33
The Bat and the Two Weasels....................33
The Bird Wounded by an Arrow....................34
TheMastiff Bitch and Her Friend....................35
The Eagle and the Dung Beetle....................36
The Lion and the Gnat....................37
The Ass with a Load of Sponges and the Ass with a Load of Salt....................39
The Lion and the Rat & The Dove and the Ant....................40
The Astrologer Who Happens to Fall into a Well....................41
The Hare and the Frogs....................43
The Cock and the Fox....................44
The Crow Who Wanted to Imitate the Eagle....................45
The Peacock Who Complained to Juno....................46
The Cat Metamorphosed into a Woman....................47
The Lion and the Ass out Hunting....................48
The Will Explained by Aesop....................49
BOOK III The Miller, His Son, and the Ass....................55
The Limbs and the Stomach....................57
The Wolf Turned Shepherd....................59
The Frogs Who Ask for a king....................60
The Fox and the Goat....................61
The Eagle, the Wild Sow, and the Cat....................62
The Drunkard and His Wife....................64
Gout and the Spider....................65
The Wolf and the Stork....................66
The Lion Brought Down by Man....................67
The Fox and the Grapes....................67
The Swan and the Cook....................67
The Wolf and the Ewes....................68
The Lion Grown Old....................69
Philomela and Procne....................70
The Drowned Wife....................70
The Weasel in the Larder....................72
The Cat and an Old Rat....................72
BOOK IV The Lion in Love....................77
The Shepherd and the Sea....................79
The Fly and the Ant....................80
The Gardener and His Lord....................82
The Ass and the Pup....................84
The War between the Rats and the Weasels....................85
The Ape and the Dolphin....................86
The Man with the Wooden Idol....................88
The Jay Dressed in the Peacock's Feathers....................89
The Camel and the Floating Sticks....................89
The Frog and the Rat....................90
The Tribute Sent by the Animals to Alexander....................91
The Horse Who Sought Revenge on the Stag....................94
The Fox and the Bust....................95
The Wolf, the She-goat, and the kid & The Wolf, the Mother, and the Child....................96
A Reflection from Socrates....................98
The Old Man and His Sons....................98
The Oracle and the Infidel....................100
The Miser Who Lost His Treasure....................101
The Master's Eye....................102
The Lark, Her Little Ones, and the Farmer Who Owns the Field....................103
BOOK V The Woodsman and Mercury....................109
The Earthen Pot and the Iron Pot....................111
The Little Fish and the Fisherman....................112
The Hare and His Ears....................113
The Fox Who Lost His Tail....................114
The Old Woman and the Two Servants....................115
The Satyr and the Passerby....................116
The Horse and the Wolf....................117
The Ploughman and His Sons....................118
The Mountain in Labor....................119
Dame Fortune and the Child....................119
The Doctors....................120
The Hen with the Golden Eggs....................120
The Ass with a Load of Holy Relics....................121
The Deer and the vine....................121
The Snake and the File....................122
The Hare and the Partridge....................123
The Eagle and the Owl....................124
The Lion Going Off to War....................125
The Bear and the Two Companions....................126
The Ass Dressed in the Lion's Skin....................127
BOOK VI The Shepherd and the Lion & The Lion and the Hunter....................131
Phoebus and Boreas....................133
Jupiter and the Farmer....................134
The Cockerel, the Cat, and the Little Mouse....................135
The Fox, the Ape, and the Animals....................136
The Mule Who Boasted of His Family Tree....................137
The Old Man and the Ass....................138
The Stag Who Sees Himself in the Water....................139
The Hare and the Tortoise....................139
The Ass and His Masters....................141
The Sun and the Frogs....................142
The Peasant and the Snake....................142
The Sick Lion and the Fox....................143
The Bird-catcher, the Hawk, and the Lark....................144
The Horse and the Ass....................145
The Dog Who Drops His Prey for Its Reflection....................145
The Wagoner Stuck in the Mud....................146
The Charlatan....................147
Discord....................148
The Young Widow....................149
Epilogue....................151
BOOK VII For Madame de Montespan....................155
The Animals Ill with the Plague....................156
The Man Who Married a Shrew....................158
The Rat Who Withdrew from the World....................160
The Heron & The Damsel....................161
The Wishes....................163
King Lion's Court....................165
The vultures and the Pigeons....................166
The Coach and the Fly....................168
The Milkmaid and the Milk Jug....................169
The Curé and the Corpse....................170
The Man Who Runs after Fortune and The Man Who Waits for Her in His Bed....................172
The Two Cocks....................174
The Ingratitude and Injustice of Men toward Fortune....................175
The Fortune-tellers....................177
The Cat, the Weasel, and the Little Rabbit....................179
The Snake's Head and Tail....................180
An Animal in the Moon....................181
BOOK VIII Death and the Dying Man....................187
The Cobbler and the Financier....................189
The Lion, the Wolf, and the Fox....................190
The Power of Fables....................192
The Man and the Flea....................194
Women and Secrets....................195
The Dog Who Carries His Master's Dinner around His Neck....................196
The Joker and the Fish....................197
The Rat and the Oyster....................198
The Bear and the Garden-lover....................200
The Two Friends....................202
The Hog, the Goat, and the Sheep....................203
Tircis and Amaranth....................204
The Lioness's Funeral....................206
The Rat and the Elephant....................208
The Horoscope....................209
The Ass and the Dog....................212
The Pasha and the Merchant....................213
The value of knowledge....................215
Jupiter and the Thunderbolts....................216
The Falcon and the Capon....................218
The Cat and the Rat....................219
The Torrent and the Rivulet....................221
Breeding....................222
The Two Dogs and the Dead Ass....................223
Democritus and the Abderitans....................225
The Wolf and the Hunter....................226
BOOK IX The Faithless Trustee....................231
The Two Pigeons....................234
The Ape and the Leopard....................236
The Acorn and the Pumpkin....................237
The Schoolboy, the Pedant, and the Owner of a Garden....................239
The Sculptor and the Statue of Jupiter....................240
The Mouse Metamorphosed into a Maiden....................241
The Madman Who Sells Wisdom....................244
The Oyster and the Adversaries....................245
The Wolf and the Scrawny Dog....................246
All in Moderation....................247
The Taper....................248
Jupiter and the Traveler....................249
The Cat and the Fox....................250
The Husband, the Wife, and the Thief....................251
The Treasure and the Two Men....................253
The Monkey and the Cat....................254
The Kite and the Nightingale....................255
The Shepherd and His Flock....................256
Discourse [for Madame de la Sablière]....................257
The Two Rats, the Fox, and the Egg....................262
BOOK X The Man and the Snake....................267
The Turtle and the Two Ducks....................269
The Fishes and the Cormorant....................270
The Money-burier and His Friend....................272
The Wolf and the Shepherds....................273
The Spider and the Swallow....................275
The Partridge and the Cocks....................276
The Dog Who Had His Ears Cut Short....................276
The Shepherd and the king....................277
The Fishes and the Shepherd Who Plays the Flute....................280
The Two Parrots, the king, and His Son....................281
The Lioness and the She-bear....................283
The Two Adventurers and the Wondrous Writ....................284
Discourse [for Monsieur le duc de la Rochefoucauld]....................286
The Merchant, the Aristocrat, the Shepherd, and the Prince....................288
BOOK XI The Lion....................293
The Gods Wishing to Instruct a Son of Jupiter....................294
The Farmer, the Hound, and the Fox....................296
The Dream of the Man from the Mogol Land....................298
The Lion, the Ape, and the Two Asses....................300
The Wolf and the Fox....................302
The Peasant from the Danube....................304
The Old Man and the Three Young Men....................307
The Mice and the Screech Owl....................308
Epilogue....................309
BOOK XII The Companions of Ulysses....................313
The Cat and the Two Sparrows....................316
The Treasure-hoarder and the Ape....................317
The Two Goats....................319
For Monseigneur le duc de Bourgogne....................320
The Old Cat and the Young Mouse....................321
The Sick Stag....................322
The Bat, the Bush, and the Duck....................323
The Quarrel of the Dogs and Cats and of the Cats and Mice....................324
The Wolf and the Fox....................326
The Crayfish and Her Daughter....................328
The Eagle and the Magpie....................329
The kite, the king, and the Fowler....................330
The Fox, the Flies, and the Hedgehog....................334
Love and Folly....................335
The Crow, the Gazelle, the Tortoise, and the Rat....................336
The Forest and the Woodsman....................340
The Fox, the Wolf, and the Horse....................341
The Fox and the Young Turkey Cocks....................343
The Ape....................344
The Scythian Philosopher....................344
The Elephant and Jupiter's Ape....................345
A Fool and a Wise Man....................347
The English Fox....................347
Daphnis and Alcimadura....................350
Philemon and Baucis....................353
The Matron of Ephesus....................359
Belphegor....................365
The Daughters of Mineas....................373
The Arbiter, the Hospitaler, and the Hermit....................395
APPENDIXES The Sun and the Frogs....................399
The Rats' League....................400
Notes....................403
Notes on Illustrations....................441
Bibliography....................445
Index....................449
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