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The King, The Kite, And The Falconer
by [?]

To His August Highness, Monseigneur The Prince De Conti.[1]

The gods, for that themselves are good,
The like in mortal monarchs would.
The prime of royal rights is grace;
To this e’en sweet revenge gives place.
So thinks your highness,–while your wrath
Its cradle for its coffin hath.
Achilles no such conquest knew–
In this a hero less than you.
That name indeed belongs to none,
Save those who have, beneath the sun,
Their hundred generous actions done.
The golden age produced such powers,
But truly few this age of ours.
The men who now the topmost sit,
Are thank’d for crimes which they omit.
For you, unharm’d by such examples,
A thousand noble deeds are winning temples,
Wherein Apollo, by the altar-fire,
Shall strike your name upon his golden lyre.
The gods await you in their azure dome;
One age must serve for this your lower home.
One age entire with you would Hymen dwell:[2]
O that his sweetest spell
For you a destiny may bind
By such a period scarce confined!
The princess and yourself no less deserve.
Her charms as witnesses shall serve;
As witnesses, those talents high
Pour’d on you by the lavish sky,
Outshining all pretence of peers
Throughout your youthful years.
A Bourbon seasons grace with wit:
To that which gains esteem, in mixture fit,
He adds a portion from, above,
Wherewith to waken love.
To paint your joy–my task is less sublime:
I therefore turn aside to rhyme
What did a certain bird of prey.

A kite, possessor of a nest antique,
Was caught alive one day.
It was the captor’s freak
That this so rare a bird
Should on his sovereign be conferr’d.
The kite, presented by the man of chase,
With due respect, before the monarch’s face,
If our account is true,
Immediately flew
And perch’d upon the royal nose.
What! on the nose of majesty?
Ay, on the consecrated nose did he!
Had not the king his sceptre and his crown?
Why, if he had, or had not, ’twere all one:
The royal nose, as if it graced a clown,
Was seized. The things by courtiers done,
And said, and shriek’d, ’twere hopeless to relate.
The king in silence sate:
An outcry, from a sovereign king,
Were quite an unbecoming thing.
The bird retain’d the post where he had fasten’d;
No cries nor efforts his departure hasten’d.
His master call’d, as in an agony of pain,
Presented lure and fist, but all in vain.
It seem’d as if the cursed bird,
With instinct most absurd,
In spite of all the noise and blows,
Would roost upon that sacred nose!
The urging off of courtiers, pages, master,
But roused his will to cling the faster.
At last he quit, as thus the monarch spoke:
‘Give egress hence, imprimis, to this kite,
And, next, to him who aim’d at our delight.
From each his office we revoke.
The one as kite we now discharge;
The other, as a forester at large.
As in our station it is fit,
We do all punishment remit.’
The court admired. The courtiers praised the deed,
In which themselves did but so ill succeed.–
Few kings had taken such a course.
The fowler might have fared far worse;
His only crime, as of his kite,
Consisted in his want of light,
About the danger there might be
In coming near to royalty.
Forsooth, their scope had wholly been
Within the woods. Was that a sin?–
By Pilpay this remarkable affair
Is placed beside the Ganges’ flood.
No human creature ventures, there,
To shed of animals the blood:
The deed not even royalty would dare.
‘Know we,’ they say,–both lord and liege,–
‘This bird saw not the Trojan siege?
Perhaps a hero’s part he bore,
And there the highest helmet wore.
What once he was, he yet may be.
Taught by Pythagoras are we,
That we our forms with animals exchange;
We’re kites or pigeons for a while,
Then biped plodders on the soil;
And then
As volatile, again
The liquid air we range.–‘
Now since two versions of this tale exist,
I’ll give the other if you list.
A certain falconer had caught
A kite, and for his sovereign thought
The bird a present rich and rare.
It may be once a century
Such game is taken from the air;
For ’tis the pink of falconry.
The captor pierced the courtier crowd,
With zeal and sweat, as if for life;
Of such a princely present proud,
His hopes of fortune sprang full rife;
When, slap, the savage made him feel
His talons, newly arm’d with steel,
By perching on his nasal member,
As if it had been senseless timber.
Outshriek’d the wight; but peals of laughter,
Which threaten’d ceiling, roof, and rafter,
From courtier, page, and monarch broke:
Who had not laugh’d at such a joke?
From me, so prone am I to such a sin,
An empire had not held me in.
I dare not say, that, had the pope been there,
He would have join’d the laugh sonorous;
But sad the king, I hold, who should not dare
To lead, for such a cause, in such a chorus.
The gods are laughers. Spite of ebon brows,
Jove joints the laugh which he allows.
As history saith, the thunderer’s laugh went up
When limping Vulcan served the nectar cup.
Whether or not immortals here are wise,
Good sense, I think, in my digression lies.
For, since the moral’s what we have in view,
What could the falconer’s fate have taught us new?
Who does not notice, in the course of things,
More foolish falconers than indulgent kings?

[1] Prince de Conti.–This was Francis-Louis, Prince de la Roche-sur-Yon and de Conti, another of La Fontaine’s great friends at court. He was born in Paris, 1664, and died in 1709.

[2] Would Hymen dwell.–An allusion to the marriage of the Prince with Marie-Theresa de Bourbon (Mdlle. de Blois, the daughter of the King and La Valliere), which took place in 1688.