Friday, October 20, 2006

Poetry Friday Review: The Hare and the Tortoise and Other Fables of La Fontaine

You know, it's funny. Last week when I was looking for a Poetry Friday entry, I was thinking, I could really use some La Fontaine right about now. And, I could find nothing online in English translation.

But what should appear on my doorstep this week? A gorgeous new collection of La Fontaine fables from Barefoot Books.

Translated by Ranjit Bolt and illustrated by Giselle Potter, The Hare and the Tortoise and other Fables of La Fontaine contains nineteen fables as told by La Fontaine. Bolt writes in the introduction that La Fontaine's fables were not, of course, new in the seventeenth century, but "for the quality of his writing and the brilliance of his wit, La Fontaine has to be the king."*

Bolt maintains La Fontaine's sing-song rhythm and rhyme, making The Hare and the Tortoise a great read-aloud choice for children graduating from Mother Goose. Potter's illustrations are whimsical fun as usual and a variety of animals adorn every page. The Hare and the Tortoise and other Fables of La Fontaine is highly recommended for children from 2-12.

This Poetry Friday I'd like to quote from Bolt's translation of La Fontaine's "The Man and the Mirrors."

The fable begins with a man who loves himself more than all others. But mirrors seem to lie to him--showing not a beautiful, but an ugly face. So he seeks seclusion and heads away from the mirrors. Here's what he finds:

There was a river flowing near
Whose waters were extremely clear,
In which he sadly chanced to see
His face reflected perfectly.
Covered in anger and confusion,
He thought, "It must be an illusion.
From now on I'll avoid this stream
Although not coming here does seem
A pity--it's a pleasant place."
I have described this tragic case
Because we're all not far behind--
That man was like the human mind.
Which thinks, alas, quite naturally,
That it's as perfect as can be.
The mirrors stand for others who,
By being faulty through and through,
Show us that we are faulty too.
And for the stream you needn't look
Beyond the stories in this book.
* Russia's Ivan Krylov (18th-19th century) was also a brilliant fabulist, but, unfortunately, less well known in the West.
Head on over to Chicken Spaghetti for this week's Poetry Friday roundup. Thanks, Susan!