La Fontaine's Fables #1 : The Circadia and the Ant

La Fontaine's Fables

A year and a half ago, I started to volunteer to correct and validate books out of copyright for Wikisource, mostly in French.

I recently finished my work on an illustrated book titled "Fables de J. de La Fontaine", published in 1874.

Jean de La Fontaine was a 17th century poet and writer. He is mainly known for his fables which were first published in 1668. They have become classics of French literature and are taught in elementary schools. I learned several of them when I was a schoolboy, and I can still recite several of them by heart (almost!).

Most of his fables are apologues that describe interactions between anthropomorphic animals, such as wolves, foxes, donkeys, lions, bears, ants, bees, etc...

In this series, I will translate several of these fables into English, while displaying the fable in French. For this, I will use the 19th century spelling, instead of the original 17th century one, as it is more understandable to French people these days. In the next post, I will also start to tell you about the life of Jean de La Fontaine.


The Circadia and the Ant

The cicada having sung
       All summer,
Found herself very deprived
When the North wind came :
Not even a small piece
Of maggot or worm.
She went begging
To her neighbor the ant,
Begging them to lend her
Some grain to survive
Until the new season.
I will pay you, she told her,
Before the harvest, I swear,
Interest and principal.
The ant is not the lending kind :
That's the least of her faults.
What were you doing during the hot weather?
She said to this borrower.
— Day and night, rain or shine,
I was singing, if you don't mind.
— You were singing, I'm very glad!
Well ! dance now.

La Cigale et la Fourmi

La cigale, ayant chanté
       Tout l’été,
Se trouva fort dépourvue
Quand la bise fut venue :
Pas un seul petit morceau
De mouche ou de vermisseau.
Elle alla crier famine
Chez la fourmi, sa voisine,
La priant de lui prêter
Quelque grain pour subsister
Jusqu’à la saison nouvelle.
Je vous paierai, lui dit-elle,
Avant l’oût1, foi d’animal,
Intérêt et principal.
La fourmi n’est pas prêteuse :
C’est là son moindre défaut.
Que faisiez-vous au temps chaud ?
Dit-elle à cette emprunteuse.
— Nuit et jour à tout venant
Je chantais, ne vous déplaise.
— Vous chantiez, j’en suis fort aise !
Eh bien ! dansez maintenant.

  1. Oût: Old French word meaning harvest (moisson).

Next fable: The Crow and the Fox

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