Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Marie de France: The Monkey and her Baby


    Once there was a monkey-lady
Who showed all animals her baby.
They thought this mother quite absurd
Both in her manner and her word,
But then she did to lion go.
She asked him first if it weren't so
That it was beautiful. Said he,
An uglier beast he'd yet to see.
He ordered her to take it home
And keep in mind this axiom:
'Every fox his tail does prize,
And marvels greatly that it's his.'
Sad and depressed, she went from there.
Along the way she met a bear.
Stock still the bear stood and assessed her.
Then cunningly the bear addressed her,
'Do I see here that infant small
The talk of every animal
The beautiful and noble one?'
'Indeed,' she said, 'this is my son.'
'Oh let me hold and kiss the dear.
I'd like to see it closer here.'
She gave it to the bear, and he
Took it and ate it hastily.
    And for this reason you should not
    Disclose your secret or your thought.
    Some things can bring delight to one,
    Which to some others prove no fun.
    Disclosure brings iniquity;
    This world has no integrity.


Marie de France was a Frenchwoman living in England in the late twelfth century. She wrote in the Anglo-French used by the Norman ruling class. Most famous for her Lais, she also translated and supplemented Aesop's and Latin fables. Monkeys appear in several of them, and lack the cleverness some fable traditions ascribe to them: Marie's monkeys are shallow, suggestible, indecisive - uncomfortably like humans, in fact. Tr. Harriet Speigel.