The Pit Bull who would be President, Fable 1: The Pup from Indiana

Mike Pence the sad puppy

(Sorry for the weird formatting of our sad Pence puppy. technical troubles.)

There once was a pup from Indiana
Who claimed he was purebred Pollyanna.
But in a closet way back home,
He left many an unchewed bone,
And some folks who won’t elect him top banana.

He wasn’t very nice to little kids
According to his legislative bids;
He voted down on schools, and tried to change the rules
To cheat folks who are L., G., B. or T.

He once aimed for a life that was Christian
Till he set his sights on this election.
Now he does the dirty work of a big fat jerk
And who mocks his tearful words with a smirk.

Pity his poor ma; what a pickle!
To defend her dear son,
She would beg, steal or run,
But who’d a thunk little Mike would be so fickle!
***

The Pit Bull who would be President builds on the work of French poet Jean de LaFontaine, Fables (1668-1694). This section provides the English translations by Elizur Wright, Jr. (1841) and the original French texts.

The Jay in the Feathers of a Peacock

A peacock moulted: soon a jay was seen
Bedeck’d with Argus trail of gold and green,
High strutting, with elated crest,
As much a peacock as the rest.
His trick was recognized and bruited,
His person jeer’d at, hiss’d, and hooted.
The peacock gentry flock’d together,
And pluck’d the fool of every feather.
Nay more, when back he sneak’d to join his race,
They shut their portals in his face.

There is another sort of jay,
The number of his legs the same,
Which makes of borrow’d plumes display,
And plagiary is its name.
But hush! The tribe I’ll not offend;
‘Tis not my work their ways to mend.

***

Le geai paré des plumes du paon

Un paon muait: un geai prit son plumage;
Puis après se l’accomoda ;
Puis parmi d’autres paons tout fier se panada,
Croyant être un beau personnage.
Quelqu’un le reconnut : il se vit bafoué,
Berné, sifflé, moqué, joué,
Et par messieurs les paons plumé d’étrange sorte ;
Même vers ses pareils s’étant réfugié,
Il fut par eux mis à la porte.
Il est assez de geais à deux pieds comme lui,
Qui se parent souvent des dépouilles d’autrui,
Et que l’on nomme plagiaires.
Je m’en tais, et ne veux leur causer nul ennui ;
Ce ne sont pas là mes affaires.

Jean de LaFontaine, Fables, IV, 9

***
Come back next Friday for Fable 2, “The Weasel who would be an Elephant”

***

Editor’s note to: The Pit Bull who would be President: Five Fables for 2016

The fables which inspired this series were published in Paris between 1668 and 1694 by a middle-aged courtier observing the rise of Louis XIV (1638-1715). Louis XIV, otherwise known as the Sun King, took the throne at age 23 in 1661. Already at age ten, the prince had witnessed how restless and threatening social life could be, when the great old families of France, from whom he and his mother, Regent Anne of Austria expected support, turned on them in violent warfare over the leadership of the country.

As a young boy, then, Louis lived through a long bloody civil war (known as La Fronde), which lasted until he was fifteen. It needs no psychoanalyst to explain why the young king was determined to rule absolutely. His goal was to dominate the great old families of the land and make France the pre-eminent country of Europe. To do so, he waged four major wars abroad, and at home, invented an elaborate set of expensive rituals by which he made people win his favor and remain under his sight and thumb at Versailles castle.

Jean de LaFontaine was seventeen years older than the king. As a member of the nobility, he spent his life among the rich and powerful aristocrats at the court and eventually became a member of the prestigious Académie française. In his Fables, he casts a jaded eye on the things people would do to get ahead in this new system. The first edition was dedicated to the dauphin (king-to-be) and published just seven years after Louis XIV took on the mantle of the kingdom. LaFontaine pokes fun at some high-ranking dignitaries such as the king’s minister of finance, Colbert (depicted as a weasel who gets too fat), but he never directly criticizes the king. It was too dangerous.

For inspiration, LaFontaine drew on sources from many times and places: readers will hear echoes of the most famous fabulist, the Greek slave-become-freeman Aesop, as well as the Indian stories of Bidpaï, the ribald voice of Gargantua’s creator, Rabelais, the philosophical resignation of Montaigne, and the wry wit of historian Plutarch. But one emotion runs throughout the Fables and is unique to LaFontaine: inquietude, a sense of restless anxiety or lingering dread. This makes it a good fit for the current mood in the United States!

Like a wily ventriloquist, LaFontaine mimics, with what must have been hilarious accuracy, the speech tics and bluster of people such as a woebegone peasant in combat with a petty, vengeful god, and a distracted milkmaid who loses all her milk after jumping for joy over thoughts of future wealth. One character peeks out frequently: the pessimistic frog or mouse who never gets what he wants. Frogs and mice stand in for the people, the victims, the eternal underdogs of history.

Capturing the humanity behind these rather cruel lessons required listening carefully to the exquisite tone of the originals, and then trying to mimic them in American voices that you might hear on a city street or on TV.

Although carefully circumspect in things kingly, LaFontaine did not avoid controversy. His sarcasm wields a sledgehammer in “The Cock and the Pearl,” and many more. Indeed it was the heavy-handed ridicule of certain fables that inspired my take on the Democrats and Republicans currently leading our country and battling over the presidency. The bitter critique lodged against the rich and mighty of “The Jay in the Feathers of a Peacock,” “Two Bulls and a Frog,” and “The Frog that Wished to be as big as the Ox,” made an easy justification for my treatment of American politicians in this ugliest of election seasons.

Where LaFontaine hid behind animal likenesses, I dare hint at the characters’ identities. I can do this because, while LaFontaine wrote and published his work under the reign of an absolute monarch, I am a citizen of a democracy. Free speech reigns liberal here. And so I will name names. The people satirized here include, in order of appearance, include:
Fable One, “The Pup from Indiana”: the Republican candidate for vice president Mike Pence
Fable Two: “The Weasel who would be an Elephant”: Senator Ted Cruz
Fable Three: “The Pit Bull, the Bear and a Mouse”: the Republican candidate for president, Donald Trump, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, and the American people
Fable Four: “The Old Lion”: President Barack Obama
Fable Five: “The Poodle and the Pit Bull”: the Democratic candidate for president, Hillary Clinton, and the Republican candidate for president, Donald Trump

In imagining these fables, I gravitated toward the harshest satires of LaFontaine. I took the story of two bulls who ferociously butt heads over a heifer and accidentally slaughter the frogs living underfoot, for instance, and transformed it into a story of two virile heads of state battling it out for Miss Universe, while a worried mouse anticipates the worst.

The goal for me, as for my illustrious predecessor, is to allow readers a glimpse into the wisdom of the poor and the vanity of the great, as well as to cast a gently mocking smile on those foibles that make us distinctly human. There is a certain tempo running under the words that communicates like a drum; I recommend reading out loud, for maximum fun. May humanity beat barbarism.
And may love for our fellows
Drive away the hateful things
Dividing us today.

JVD, 8/22/16

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