Tales /märchen

Le Heron

The following French fairytale was told by my old high school French teacher:

First in French:

Un jour sur ses longs pieds allait je ne sais où
Le Héron au long bec emmanché d’un long cou.
Il côtoyait une rivière.
L’onde était transparente ainsi qu’aux plus beaux jours ;
Ma commère la Carpe y faisait mille tours
Avec le Brochet son compère.
Le Héron en eût fait aisément son profit :
Tous approchaient du bord, l’Oiseau n’avait qu’à prendre ;
Mais il crut mieux faire d’attendre
Qu’il eût un peu plus d’appétit.
Il vivait de régime, et mangeait à ses heures.
Après quelques moments l’appétit vint ; l’Oiseau
S’approchant du bord vit sur l’eau
Des Tanches qui sortaient du fond de ces demeures.
Le mets ne lui plut pas ; il s’attendait à mieux,
Et montrait un goût dédaigneux
Comme le Rat du bon Horace.
Moi des Tanches ? dit-il, moi Héron que je fasse
Une si pauvre chère ? Et pour qui me prend-on ?
La Tanche rebutée, il trouva du Goujon.
Du Goujon ! c’est bien là le dîné d’un Héron !
J’ouvrirais pour si peu le bec ! aux Dieux ne plaise !
Il l’ouvrit pour bien moins : tout alla de façon
Qu’il ne vit plus aucun Poisson.
La faim le prit ; il fut tout heureux et tout aise
De rencontrer un Limaçon.
Ne soyons pas si difficiles :
Les plus accommodants, ce sont les plus habiles :
On hasarde de perdre en voulant trop gagner.
Gardez-vous de rien dédaigner ;
Surtout quand vous avez à peu près votre compte.
Bien des gens y sont pris ; ce n’est pas aux Hérons
Que je parle ; écoutez, humains, un autre conte ;
Vous verrez que chez vous j’ai puisé ces leçons.

 

And in English:

One day,─no matter when or where,─

A long-legg’d heron chanced to fare

By a certain river’s brink,

With his long, sharp beak

Helved on his slender neck;

“Twas a fish-spear, you might think.

The water was clear and still,

The carp and the pike there at will

Pursued their silent fun,

Turning up, ever and anon,

A golden side to the sun.

With ease might the heron have made

Great profits in his fishing trade.

So near came the scaly fry,

They might be caught by the passer-by.

But he thought he better might

Wait for a better appetite─

For he lived by rule, and could not eat,

Except at his hours, the best of meat.

Anon his appetite return’d once more;

So, approaching again the shore,

He saw some tench taking their leaps,

Now and then, from their lowest deeps.

With as dainty a taste as Horace’s rat,

He turn’d away from such food as that.

“What, tench for a heron! poh!

I scorn the thought, and let them go.”

The tench refused, there came a gudgeon;

“For all that,” said the bird, “I budge on.

I’ll ne’er open my beak, if the gods please,

For such mean little fishes as these.”

He did it for less;

For it came to pass,

That not another fish could he see;

And, at last, so hungry was he,

That he thought it of some avail

To find on the bank a single snail.

Such is the sure result

Of being too difficult.

Would you be strong and great,

Learn to accommodate.

Get what you can, and trust for the rest;

The whole is oft lost by seeking the best.

Above all things beware of disdain;

Where, at most, you have little to gain.

The people are many that make

Every day this sad mistake.

‘Tis not for the herons I put this case,

Ye featherless people, of human race.

─List to another tale as true,

And you’ll hear the lesson brought home with you

 

Analysis: My old teacher first heard this fable when on a French exchange program in high school.  Since hearing it, she has shared it with her daughters and every French class she has taught at the high school.  It spotlights the theme of taking good things as they come to you rather than waiting for something better.  This piece of folklore has special significance to me because I heard it from my French teacher rather than finding it on a website or in a book where you can find the fable today along with any similar tales.  The Heron is a classic example of a French fable because of the use of animal characters and inclusion of a moral to the story.  In my opinion I think it is better written and easier to listen to in French but translating the fable to English has helped the popularity of this particular fable grow.

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