Monday, October 19, 2009
Social Life of the Insect World
Fine weather for the Cigale! God, what heat!
Half drunken with her joy, she feasts
In a hail of fire. Pays for the harvest meet;
A golden sea the reaper breasts,
Loins bent, throat bare; silent, he labours long,
For thirst within his throat has stilled the song.
A blessed time for thee, little Cigale.
Thy little cymbals shake and sound,
Shake, shake thy stomach till thy mirrors fall!
Man meanwhile swings his scythe around;
Continually back and forth it veers,
Flashing its steel amidst the ruddy ears.
Grass-plugged, with water for the grinder full,
A flask is hung upon his hip;
The stone within its wooden trough is cool,
Free all the day to sip and sip;
But man is gasping in the fiery sun,
That makes his very marrow melt and run.
Thou, Cigale, hast a cure for thirst: the bark,
Tender and juicy, of the bough.
Thy beak, a very needle, stabs it. Mark
The narrow passage welling now;
The sugared stream is flowing, thee beside,
Who drinkest of the flood, the honeyed tide.
Not in peace always; nay, for thieves arrive,
Neighbours and wives, or wanderers vile;
[Pg 15]They saw thee sink the well, and ill they thrive
Thirsting; they seek to drink awhile;
Beauty, beware! the wallet-snatcher's face,
Humble at first, grows insolent apace.
They seek the merest drop; thy leavings take;
Soon discontent, their heads they toss;
They crave for all, and all will have. They rake
Their claws thy folded wings across;
Thy back a mountain, up and down each goes;
They seize thee by the beak, the horns, the toes.
This way and that they pull. Impatient thou:
Pst! Pst! a jet of nauseous taste
O'er the assembly sprinklest. Leave the bough
And fly the rascals thus disgraced,
Who stole thy well, and with malicious pleasure
Now lick their honey'd lips, and feed at leisure.
See these Bohemians without labour fed!
The ant the worst of all the crew—
Fly, drone, wasp, beetle too with horned head,
All of them sharpers thro' and thro',
Idlers the sun drew to thy well apace—
None more than she was eager for thy place,
More apt thy face to tickle, toe to tread,
Or nose to pinch, and then to run
Under the shade thine ample belly spread;
Or climb thy leg for ladder; sun
Herself audacious on thy wings, and go
Most insolently o'er thee to and fro.
Now comes a tale that no one should believe.
In other times, the ancients say,
The winter came, and hunger made thee grieve.
Thou didst in secret see one day
The ant below the ground her treasure store away.
[Pg 16]The wealthy ant was drying in the sun
Her corn the dew had wet by night,
Ere storing it again; and one by one
She filled her sacks as it dried aright.
Thou camest then, and tears bedimmed thy sight,
Saying: "'Tis very cold; the bitter bise
Blows me this way and that to-day.
I die of hunger. Of your riches please
Fill me my bag, and I'll repay,
When summer and its melons come this way.
"Lend me a little corn." Go to, go to!
Think you the ant will lend an ear?
You are deceived. Great sacks, but nought for you!
"Be off, and scrape some barrel clear!
You sing of summer: starve, for winter's here!"
'Tis thus the ancient fable sings
To teach us all the prudence ripe
Of farthing-snatchers, glad to knot the string
That tie their purses. May the gripe
Of colic twist the guts of all such tripe!
He angers me, this fable-teller does,
Saying in winter thou dost seek
Flies, grubs, corn—thou dost never eat like us!
—Corn! Couldst thou eat it, with thy beak?
Thou hast thy fountain with its honey'd reek.
To thee what matters winter? Underground
Slumber thy children, sheltered; thou
The sleep that knows no waking sleepest sound.
Thy body, fallen from the bough,
Crumbles; the questing ant has found thee now.
The wicked ant of thy poor withered hide
A banquet makes; in little bits
She cuts thee up, and empties thine inside,
And stores thee where in wealth she sits:
[Pg 17]Choice diet when the winter numbs the wits.
Here is the tale related duly,
And little resembling the fable, truly!
Hoarders of farthings, I know, deuce take it.
It isn't the story as you would make it!
Crook-fingers, big-bellies, what do you say,
Who govern the world with the cash-box—hey?
You have spread the story, with shrug and smirk,
That the artist ne'er does a stroke of work;
And so let him suffer, the imbecile!
Be you silent! 'Tis you, I think,
When the Cigale pierces the vine to drink,
Drive her away, her drink to steal;
And when she is dead—you make your meal!