The Pit Bull who would be President: Fable 4, The Old Lion

Obama the old lion

There comes a time in any statesman’s term
When he knows that he’s had enough.
When the Congress blocks you at every turn
Knowing they’re stalling for a tough.

That time goes by, so naturally,
Let it be dignified.

Because it is too much to suffer all the fools
Who pooh-pooh the man’s classroom style.
Listen to him speak for awhile:
If his words are too big, get a dictionary!
You might just learn something cooler,
Than the on-line games for a preschooler.
But don’t you dare tweet all that bleep
‘Bout the man who saved our economy.

That Clinton, Sanders, or Bush one and two,
Would criticize his record: that we knew.
But what right has Donald to speak of telling lies
When he’s most-rated “Pants on fire”?

Let the old lion do his bloody job,
Let the judge take his new role on the bench
Do your own job, fellas,
Take it from a mensch:
We voters will be satisfied.

***

Come back next Friday for the last in this series, Fable 5: “The Poodle and the Pit Bull”!

***

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 Lion Grown Old

A lion, mourning, in his age, the wane
Of might once dreaded through his wild domain,
Was mock’d at last, upon his throne,
By subjects of his own,
Strong through his weakness grown.
The horse his head saluted with a kick;
The wolf snapp’d at his royal hide;
The ox, too, gored him in the side;
The unhappy lion, sad and sick,
Could hardly growl, he was so weak.
In uncomplaining, stoic pride,
He waited for the hour of fate,
Until the ass approach’d his gate;
Whereat, “This is too much,” he saith;
“I willingly would yield my breath;
But, ah! Thy kick is a double death!”
***

Le Lion devenu vieux

Le lion, terreur des forêts,
Chargé d’ans, et pleurant son antique prouesse,
Fut enfin attaqué par ses propres sujets,
Devenus forts par sa faiblesse.
Le cheval s’approchant lui donne un coup de pied,
Le loup un coup de dent, le bœuf un coup de corne.
Le malheureux lion, languissant, triste et morne,
Peut à peine rugir, par l’âge estropié.
Il attend son destin, sans faire aucunes plaintes,
Quand, voyant l’âne même à son antre accourir :
« Ah ! c’est trop, lui dit-il : je voulais bien mourir ;
Mais c’est mourir deux fois que souffrir tes atteintes. »

Jean de LaFontaine, Fables, III, 14

***

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 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 wanted to 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

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