Beastly behaviour

Beastly behaviour

In Competition No. 2438 you were invited to write, in the spirit of Aesop or La Fontaine, a rhymed fable involving animals.

Last week I doubted my qualifications to be a judge, but this week my credentials are copper-bottomed, since I have translated selections of the fables of both Aesop and La Fontaine: a sympathetic pair. Though separated by 2,000 years, I feel that the reputedly deformed Phrygian slave and the lazy courtier of the Sun King would have liked each other. I was lucky enough to be introduced to them as a child in wonderfully illustrated editions — Tenniel for Aesop and the great 19th-century draughtsman Grandville for La Fontaine.

Groggy with peasant wisdom, I present the prizewinners, printed below, with £25 each, and award Paul Griffin the bonus fiver.

The elephant was in the chair,
And all the animals were there.
‘Now who can count?’ the chairman said.
‘Myself, I have a mighty head,
But cannot get past two or three.’
And everyone said, ‘Nor can we.’
The rabbit said, ‘It’s rather sad:
The wife and I can never add,
Although we’re said to multiply.’
On this there came a tiny cry,
From an amoeba in a pool:
‘Although we have not been to school,
In our small way’ — he spoke with pride —
‘We multiply while we divide!’
The moral: size is something, yes,
But there is wit in littleness.
Paul Griffin

A tortoise felt a butterfly
Alight upon his back.
‘My dear,’ said he, ‘you make me sigh
For everything I lack.
You’re lighter than a floating feather,
As delicate as lace,
Whilst I plod on, all shell and leather,
Incapable of grace.’
‘But I,’ said she, ‘as surely crave
Your steady, settled ways.
You potter to a distant grave,
My life flits by in days.’
‘Well, well!’ thought he, ‘Well, well!’ thought she,
‘My fate can’t be so bad.
If other creatures envy me,
I’ve reasons to be glad.’
W.J. Webster

Poor Billy Brown Owl’s wings were clipped;
For flying he was ill-equipped:
So, sadly, all that he could do
Was strut his stuff, to wit, to woo.

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