In Competition No. 3115 you were invited to submit a fable for the 21st century, complete with moral. James Michie, my predecessor in the judge’s seat, was a celebrated translator of fables and if you were looking for inspiration, and don’t speak French, his 1973 rendering of a selection by La Fontaine were described by the exacting Geoffrey Grigson as ‘earthier and sharper than Marianne Moore’s’. Though this challenge didn’t see you at your sharpest — some entries tended towards the heavy-handed — those that stood out earn their authors £25 apiece.
One day a man was strolling through a wood when he heard a bird singing. It was a beguiling little song so he stopped to listen more closely. The tune fascinated him so much that he practised whistling it all the way home. The next day he returned to the same spot and whistled the song himself. To his delight the unseen bird responded, echoing his version. As the days passed, more and more birds joined in, making a kind of chorus with him. But after a while he grew bored with the simple song and whistled something slightly different. Rather than pleasing the birds, the novelty seemed to upset them. Their voices became louder and more and more raucous, eventually drowning out the man’s song with their frenzied twittering. The man never whistled again.
Moral: If you don’t whistle the correct tune, you may well get maltweeted.
A knot of toads in league amassed
Upon the cliff top’s brink,
With fire behind encroaching fast
They’d little time to think.
‘Let’s look before we leap,’ they cried,
‘Together talk things through,
Weigh the options, then decide
In union what to do.’
The pros and cons were duly broached
As sound debate required,
But as the blazing fire approached
Their time for talk expired.
Engulfed in flames they spoke no more
Since all were doomed to cook.