Phoebus and Boreas


The sun and the north wind observed a traveler
                  Who was cloaked with particular care
Because fall had returned; for when autumn has come,
What we wear must be warm or we dare not leave home.
Both rain and rainbow as the sun shines fitfully,
                  Warn one to dress warily
In these months when we don't know for what to prepare,
An uncertain time in the Roman calendar.
Though our traveler was fortified for a gale,
With interlined cloak which the rain could not penetrate,
The wind said, "This man thinks himself impregnable
And his cloak is well sewn, but my force can prevail
                  As he'll find in the blast I create,
No button has held. Indeed before I am through,
                  I may waft the whole mantle away.
The battle could afford us amusement, I'd say.
Do you fancy a contest?" The sun said, "I do.
                  Mere words are unprofitable,
Let us see which can first unfasten the mantle
                  Protecting the pedestrian.
Begin: I shall hide; you uncloak him if you can."
Then our blower swelled, swallowed what wind he could,
To form a balloon, and with the wager to win,
                  Made demonical din.
Puffed, snorted, and sighed till the blast that he brewed
Left ships without a sail and homes without a roof
                  Because a mantle proved stormproof.
It was a triumph for the man to have withstood
                  The onslaught of wind that had rushed in,
As he somehow stood firm. The wind roared his chagrin–
A defeated boaster since his gusts had been borne.
Controlling clasp and skirt required dexterity,
                  But the wind found nothing torn
                  And must stop punctually.

                  The cloud had made it cool
Till the sun's genial influence caused the traveler to give way,
                  And perspiring because wearing wool,
                  He cast off a wrap too warm for the day
Though the sun had not yet shone with maximum force.

                  Clemency may be our best resource.


                                  French; trans. Marianne Moore


Jean de la Fontaine, French, trans. Marianne Moore, The Fables of la Fontaine, 1945, Penguin Books.