Marie de France’s Fable : The Cock And The Fox


Marie de France was a French woman who lived in England in the second half of the 12th century. She wrote a series of Lais, short romances with magical elements, and a set of 103 Fables of which some are based on Aesop’s Fables. It is not clear in what form the fable she told of the Cock and the Fox came to Chaucer; it is not in Aesop and no medieval English version of it is known. The following is a whimsical 19th-century translation by the great medievalist W. W. Skeat.


     A Cock our story tells of, who

     High on a dunghill stood and crew.

     A Fox, attracted, straight drew nigh,

     And spake soft words of flattery.


     'Dear Sir!' said he, 'Your look's divine;

     I never saw a bird so fine!

     I never heard a voice so clear

     Except your father's -- ah! poor dear!

     His voice rang clearly, loudly -- but

     Most clearly, when his eyes were shut!'


     'The same with me!' the Cock replies, And flaps

     his wings, and shuts his eyes.

     Each note rings clearer than the last

     The Fox starts up, and holds him fast;

     Towards the wood he hies apace.


     But as he crossed an open space,

     The shepherds spy him; off they fly;

     The dogs give chase with hue and cry.

     The Fox still holds the Cock, though fear

     Suggests his case is growing queer. --

     'Tush!' cries the Cock, 'cry out, to grieve 'em,

     "The cock is mine! I'll never leave him!"'

     The Fox attempts, in scorn, to shout,

     And opes his mouth; the Cock slips out,

     And, in a trice, has gained a tree.


     Too late the Fox begins to see

     How well the Cock his game has play'd;

     For once his tricks have been repaid.

     In angry language, uncontrolled,

     He 'gins to curse the mouth that's bold

     To speak, when it should silent be.


     'Well,' says the Cock, 'the same with me;

     I curse the eyes that go to sleep

     Just when they ought sharp watch to keep

     Lest evil to their lord befall.'


     Thus fools contraiously do all:

     They chatter when they should be dumb,

     And when they ought to speak are mum.