Day 8/30 - you scratch my back...

So I have been watching Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy. It’s grand - the hubris, the betrayals, the loyalties, the cruelties, and of course, the greed. The world vacillates between “its only business” and “its family.” And many times our choices are like that too - the selfish disguised as the pragmatic, a degenerate love that becomes fear, power and folly. 

Literature and the arts have many lessons about such downfalls. In the simplest form, they are fables. Little stories, mostly of animals, that illustrate perfectly well man’s wisdom and folly. Today’s poem is a fable by French poet Jean de la Fontaine (1621-1695) who wrote lots of these humorous, ironic and witty fables in free verse. This poem contains a lesson that the Godfather would endorse: “Mutual aid”!

The Ass and the Dog

For beast, as for man, to help when we can
Is almost a law of nature.
An ass defied it, I don’t know why,
For he’s a good enough creature.

With the dog his friend, no thoughts in his mind,
The ass walks, followed by master.
When he sleeps, the ass starts munching grass.
No thistles in this pasture!

For want of thistle a feast can fizzle -
But let’s not be invidious -
I’ll pass up thistle today, thinks Ass:
Why be so fastidious? 

“Friend, will you please get down on your knees,”
Says starving Dog, “so I
Can reach the bread basket?” No use to ask it,
Ass makes no reply.

He’s afraid he might miss out on a bite,
So he answers Dog at last:
“Old pal, you will sup, when master wakes up,
Till then I suggest you fast.”
On exchanging these grim pleasantries,
They catch a glimpse of a wolf.
They can tell as he hurries out of the forest
That he is hungry himself.
Ass gives a yelp to Dog for help,
But he stands pat, refusing.
“Old pal,” he cracks, “I suggest you make tracks,
Till Master finishes snoozing.

He’ll wake up soon. Turn around and run.
If Wolf catches up, be bold.
Smash his jaw with your newly-shod paw,
Believe me you’ll knock him cold!”

During his speech, Wolf gets in reach
Of Ass and chokes him to death
Without batting an eye. And that is why
Mutual aid is my faith. 

(The selection I have pairs up the poems with illustrations by the artist-designer-engineer Alexander Calder. He is best known for his beautiful modernist giant mobiles.)


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