Did you hear of the prize poodle turned New Yorker?
Although she was something of a porker
She’d made it fine through many a fluster
That is, till the year that she met Buster.
“I’ll bet you,” said the poodle to the mutt,
That you won’t reach the finish line
Before me, if you run this time.”
“Are you quite nuts?!” said the pit bull to the lady,
“Have you lost your teeny little girl mind?”
“Nuts or not,” she said, “the bet is on for sure now.”
And so they both swaggered off with a strut,
Both of them pulling in their gut.
They had only three miles to run
By November, it would be done.
The pit bull hit the trail first, barking at full blast
He charged the woods, he fought them to the last.
With big harsh barks and threats of violence,
That dog made his whole life a pest.
The poodle, on the contrary,
Padded on quite senatorially.
She left on time, she did her job fully,
History had taught her to make haste slowly.
Meanwhile, he thinks the game is won
He goes out to have lots of fun.
He brags and tweets of his glory:
Thinks this win will sanctify his story.
He romps around, swinging dicks with the best,
Thinks little of the motley crowd.
Till the day when he sees his rival coming near,
He’ll shoot in, throwing hot mud and fire,
Barking, snapping, mucking up the mire.
He will try to scare us all o’er again:
But no one will be listening to him,
For Madame Poodle will be president.
“Aha!,” she will bark, “Din’t I say that I would win?
What good is your glory and mean bluster,
When I beat your pants off, Buster?
Now it’s me who’s calling the tunes,
You will shut up your big trap soon.”
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 Hare and the Tortoise
To win a race, the swiftness of a dart
Availeth not without a timely start.
The hare and the tortoise are my witnesses.
Said tortoise to the swiftest thing that is,
“I’ll bet that you’ll not reach, so soon as I
The tree on yonder hill we spy.”
“So soon! Why madam, are you frantic?”
Replied the creature, with an antic;
“Pray take, your senses to restore,
A grain or two of hellebore.”
“Say,” said the tortoise, “what you will;
I dare you to the wager still.”
‘Twas done; the stakes were paid,
And near the goal tree laid—
Of what, is not a question for this place,
Nor who it was that judged the race.
Our hare had scarce five jumps to make,
Of such as he is wont to take,
When, starting just before their beaks
He leaves the hounds at leisure,
Thence till kalends of the Greeks,
The sterile heath to measure.
Thus having time to browse and doze,
And list which way the zephyr blows,
He makes himself content to wait,
And let the tortoise go her gait
In solemn, senatorial state.
She starts; she moils on, modestly and lowly,
And with a prudent wisdom hastens slowly;
But he, meanwhile, the victory despises,
Thinks lightly of such prizes,
Believes it for his honor
To take last start and gain upon her.
So, feeding, sitting at his ease,
He meditates of what you please,
Till his antagonist he sees
Approach the goal; then starts,
Away like lightning darts:
But vainly does he run;
The race is by the tortoise won.
Cries she, “My senses do I lack?
What boots your boasted swiftness now?
I bore my house upon my back.”
Le Lièvre et la tortue
Rien ne sert de courir; il faut partir à point.
Le lièvre et la tortue en sont un témoignage.
« Gageons, dit celle-ci, que vous n’atteindrez point
Sitôt que moi ce but. –Sitôt ? Êtes-vous sage ?
Repartit l’animal léger.
Ma commère, il vous faut purger
Avec quatre grains d’ellébore.
–Sage ou non, je parie encore. »
Ainsi fut fait : et de tous deux
On mit près du but les enjeux.
Savoir quoi, ce n’est pas l’affaire,
Ni de quel juge l’on convint.
Notre lièvre n’avait que quatre pas à faire ;
J’entends de ceux qu’il fait lorsque prêt d’être atteint
Il s’éloigne des chiens, les renvoie aux calendes
Et leur fait arpenter les landes.
Ayant, dis-je, du temps de reste pour brouter,
Pour dormir, et pour écouter
D’où vient le vent, il laisse la tortue
Aller son train de sénateur.
Elle part, elle s’évertue ;
Elle se hâte avec lenteur.
Lui cependant méprise une telle victoire,
Tient la gageure à peu de gloire,
Croit qu’il y va de son honneur
De partir tard. Il broute, il se repose,
Il s’amuse à tout autre chose
Qu’à la gageure. À la fin quand il vit
Que l’autre touchait presque au bout de la carrière,
Il partit comme un trait ; mais les élans qu’il fit
Furent vains : la tortue arriva la première.
« Hé bien ! lui cria-t-elle, avais-je pas raison ?
De quoi vous sert votre vitesse ?
Moi, l’emporter ! Et que serait-ce
Si vous portiez une maison ? »
Jean de LaFontaine, Fables, VI, 10
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. So 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.