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A poem by Jean de La Fontaine

An Animal In The Moon

Title:     An Animal In The Moon
Author: Jean de La Fontaine [More Titles by La Fontaine]

An Animal In The Moon[26]


While one philosopher[27] affirms
That by our senses we're deceived,
Another[28] swears, in plainest terms,
The senses are to be believed.
The twain are right. Philosophy
Correctly calls us dupes whene'er
Upon mere senses we rely.
But when we wisely rectify
The raw report of eye or ear,
By distance, medium, circumstance,
In real knowledge we advance.
These things hath nature wisely plann'd--
Whereof the proof shall be at hand.
I see the sun: its dazzling glow
Seems but a hand-breadth here below;
But should I see it in its home,
That azure, star-besprinkled dome,
Of all the universe the eye,
Its blaze would fill one half the sky.
The powers of trigonometry
Have set my mind from blunder free.
The ignorant believe it flat;
I make it round, instead of that.
I fasten, fix, on nothing ground it,
And send the earth to travel round it.
In short, I contradict my eyes,
And sift the truth from constant lies.
The mind, not hasty at conclusion,
Resists the onset of illusion,
Forbids the sense to get the better,
And ne'er believes it to the letter.
Between my eyes, perhaps too ready,
And ears as much or more too slow,
A judge with balance true and steady,
I come, at last, some things to know.
Thus when the water crooks a stick,[29]
My reason straightens it as quick--
Kind Mistress Reason--foe of error,
And best of shields from needless terror!
The creed is common with our race,
The moon contains a woman's face.
True? No. Whence, then, the notion,
From mountain top to ocean?
The roughness of that satellite,
Its hills and dales, of every grade,
Effect a change of light and shade
Deceptive to our feeble sight;
So that, besides the human face,
All sorts of creatures one might trace.
Indeed, a living beast, I ween,
Has lately been by England seen.
All duly placed the telescope,
And keen observers full of hope,
An animal entirely new,
In that fair planet, came to view.
Abroad and fast the wonder flew;--
Some change had taken place on high,
Presaging earthly changes nigh;
Perhaps, indeed, it might betoken
The wars[30] that had already broken
Out wildly o'er the Continent.
The king to see the wonder went:
(As patron of the sciences,
No right to go more plain than his.)
To him, in turn, distinct and clear,
This lunar monster did appear.--
A mouse, between the lenses caged,
Had caused these wars, so fiercely waged!
No doubt the happy English folks
Laugh'd at it as the best of jokes.
How soon will Mars afford the chance
For like amusements here in France!
He makes us reap broad fields of glory.
Our foes may fear the battle-ground;
For us, it is no sooner found,
Than Louis, with fresh laurels crown'd,
Bears higher up our country's story.
The daughters, too, of Memory,--
The Pleasures and the Graces,--
Still show their cheering faces:
We wish for peace, but do not sigh.
The English Charles the secret knows
To make the most of his repose.
And more than this, he'll know the way,
By valour, working sword in hand,
To bring his sea-encircled land
To share the fight it only sees to-day.
Yet, could he but this quarrel quell,
What incense-clouds would grateful swell!
What deed more worthy of his fame!
Augustus, Julius[31]--pray, which Caesar's name
Shines now on story's page with purest flame?
O people happy in your sturdy hearts!
Say, when shall Peace pack up these bloody darts,
And send us all, like you, to softer arts?



[26] This fable is founded on a fact which occurred in the experience of the astronomer Sir Paul Neal, a member of the Royal Society of London.--Translator. Sir Paul Neal, whose _lapsus_ suggested this fable, thought he had discovered an animal in the moon. Unluckily, however, after having made his "discovery" known, it was found that the ground of it was simply the accidental presence of a mouse in the object-glass of his telescope. Samuel Butler, the author of "Hudibras," has also made fun of this otherwise rather tragical episode in the early history of the Royal Society of London, _vide_ his "Elephant in the Moon."

[27] _One philosopher._--Democritus, the so-called "laughing (or scoffing) philosopher." He lived B.C. about 400 years. Fable XXVI., Book VIII., is devoted to him and how he was treated by his contemporaries.

[28] _Another._--Epicurus, founder of the Epicurean philosophy. He lived B. C. about 300 years.

[29] _Water crooks a stick_.--An allusion to the bent appearance which a stick has in water, consequent upon the refraction of light.

[30] _The wars_.--This fable appears to have been composed about the beginning of the year 1677. The European powers then found themselves exhausted by wars, and desirous of peace. England, the only neutral, became, of course, the arbiter of the negotiations which ensued at Nimeguen. All the belligerent parties invoked her mediation. Charles II., however, felt himself exceedingly embarrassed by his secret connections with Louis XIV., which made him desire to prescribe conditions favourable to that monarch; while, on the other hand, he feared the people of England, if, treacherous to her interests, he should fail to favour the nations allied and combined against France.--Translator. _Vide_ Hume: who also says that the English king "had actually in secret sold his neutrality to France, and he received remittances of 1,000,000 livres a year, which was afterwards increased to 2,000,000 livres; a considerable sum in the embarrassed state of his revenue." Hume's _Hist. England_, Bell's edit., 1854, vol. vi., p. 242.

[31] _Augustus, Julius._--Augustus Caesar was eminent for his pacific policy, as Julius Caesar was eminent for his warlike policy.

[The end]
Jean de La Fontaine's poem: Animal In The Moon