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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Sycophantic Fox and the Gullible Raven

Guest Blogger Dept.: This is the first longer-than-a-quatrain poem I memorized, probably around the age of twelve. I was fascinated by the language, having never encountered such virtuoso rhyming before. Its author, Guy Wetmore Carryl (1873-1904), was by ambition a novelist, but if his reputation persists at all, it’s for the light verse that appeared in such periodicals as Life (the pre-Luce humor magazine), Harper’s, Collier’s, and many others, collected in such books as Grimm Tales Made Gay and the in which the piece below appeared, Fables for the Frivolous, published in 1898. Other delightful poems of his include “The Embarrassing Episode of Little Miss Muffet,” “How Jack Found that Beans May Go Back on a Chap,” and “How Rudeness and Kindness Were Justly Rewarded.”


Drawing by Peter Newell
A RAVEN SAT upon a tree,
And not a word he spoke, for
His beak contained a piece of Brie,
Or, maybe, it was Roquefort:
We'll make it any kind you please –
At all events, it was a cheese.

Beneath the tree’s umbrageous limb
A hungry fox sat smiling;
He saw the raven watching him,
And spoke in words beguiling.
J’admire,” said he, “ton beau plumage.”
(The which was simply persiflage.)

Two things there are, no doubt you know,
To which a fox is used:
A rooster that is bound to crow,
A crow that’s bound to roost,
And whichsoever he espies

He tells the most unblushing lies.

“Sweet fowl,” he said, “I understand
You’re more than merely natty,
I hear you sing to beat the band
And Adelina Patti.
Pray render with your liquid tongue
A bit from ‘Gotterdammerung.’”

This subtle speech was aimed to please
The crow, and it succeeded:
He thought no bird in all the trees
Could sing as well as he did.
In flattery completely doused,
He gave the “Jewel Song” from “Faust.”

But gravitation’s law, of course,
As Isaac Newton showed it,
Exerted on the cheese its force,
And elsewhere soon bestowed it.
In fact, there is no need to tell
What happened when to earth it fell.

I blush to add that when the bird
Took in the situation
He said one brief, emphatic word,
Unfit for publication.
The fox was greatly startled, but
He only sighed and answered “Tut.”

THE MORAL is: A fox is bound
To be a shameless sinner.
And also: When the cheese comes round
You know it’s after dinner.
But (what is only known to few)
The fox is after dinner, too.

– from Fables for the Frivolous, Harper & Bros., NY, 1898

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