De La Fontaine's Fables
The Lion in Love

The Lion in Love, by Jean de la Fontaine

Translated from French by Elizur Wright

Based on Aesop's fable of the same name.
(Aesop's moral: Love can tame the wildest.)

To Mademoiselle De Sevigne.

Sevigne, type of every grace
In female form and face,
In your regardlessness of men,
Can you show favour when
The sportive fable craves your ear,
And see, unmoved by fear,
A lion's haughty heart
Thrust through by Love's audacious dart?

Strange conqueror, Love! And happy he,
And strangely privileged and free,
Who only knows by story
Him and his feats of glory!

If on this subject you are wont
To think the simple truth too blunt,
The fabulous may less affront;
Which now, inspired with gratitude,
Yea, kindled into zeal most fervent,
Does venture to intrude
Within your maiden solitude,
And kneel, your humble servant.—
In times when animals were speakers,
Among the quadrupedal seekers
Of our alliance
There came the lions.
And why not? for then
They yielded not to men
In point of courage or of sense,
Nor were in looks without pretence.
A high-born lion, on his way
Across a meadow, met one day
A shepherdess, who charmed him so,
That, as such matters ought to go,
He sought the maiden for his bride.
Her sire, it cannot be denied,
Had much preferred a son-in-law
Of less terrific mouth and paw.
It was not easy to decide—
The lion might the gift abuse—
It was not quite prudent to refuse.
And if refusal there should be,
Perhaps a marriage one would see,
Some morning, made clandestinely.
For, over and above
The fact that she could bear
With none but males of martial air,
The lady was in love
With him of shaggy hair.

(Poem continues below.)

Walter Crane's 'The Lion in Love,' from The Baby's Aesop, rendered here in black and white.

Her sire, much wanting cover
To send away the lover,
Thus spoke: 'My daughter, sir,
Is delicate. I fear to her
Your fond caressings
Will prove rough blessings.
To banish all alarm
About such sort of harm,
Permit us to remove the cause,
By filing off your teeth and claws.
In such a case, your royal kiss
Will be to her a safer bliss,
And to yourself a sweeter;
Since she will more respond
To those endearments fond
With which you greet her."
The lion gave consent at once,
By love so great a dunce!
Without a tooth or claw now view him—
A fort with cannon spiked.
The dogs, let loose on him, slew him,
All biting safely where they liked.

O, tyrant Love! when held by you,
We may to prudence bid adieu.

Context: Mademoiselle De Sevigne was a young lady of De La Fontaine's time and daughter of a member of the King Louis XIV's court, had gained great fame first by playing a shepherdess opposite Louis himself in a stage play.

Thus De La Fontaine places the young lady in this poem inspired by Aesop's The Lion in Love, about a lion in love with a shepherdess.

The Lion in Love Summary: Back in the days when animals spoke and commingled with people, a lion fell in love with a beautiful shepherdess and proposed marriage.

(As fables go, this one is kind of racy.)

The girl's father suggests to the lion that his teeth and claws might pose a threat to the shepherdess during lovemaking, and thus proposes that the lion have them removed.

The lion does, whereupon dogs are set upon the defenseless lion, killing him!

Comparison to Aesop: Aesop's lion appears to survive his defanging, suffering only humiliation. Neither lion gets to marry the shepherdess. Read George Fyler Townsend's translation of Aesop's version:

The Lion in Love, by Aesop

A lion demanded the daughter of a woodcutter in marriage. The Father, unwilling to grant, and yet afraid to refuse his request, hit upon this expedient to rid himself of his importunities. He expressed his willingness to accept the Lion as the suitor of his daughter on one condition: that he should allow him to extract his teeth, and cut off his claws, as his daughter was fearfully afraid of both. The Lion cheerfully assented to the proposal. But when the toothless, clawless Lion returned to repeat his request, the Woodman, no longer afraid, set upon him with his club, and drove him away into the forest.

The Lion in Love: part of the Complete Fables of Jean de La Fontaine

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