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Eternal French texts: “Le corbeau et le renard”

French culture, like most cultures, has a set of poems and texts that are totally ingrained in the popular knowledge of the native speakers. Those texts can be referred to without much detail since most people would know exactly what it is about. A typical American equivalent example is the reference to “We are not in Kansas anymore, Toto”, which, as as a non-native English speaker, puzzled me in the first months of my arrival in the USA.

The first example of such texts in French is a seventeenth century fable by Jean de la Fontaine, “Le Corbeau et le Renard” (The Crow and the Fox), which most elementary school students have to learn by heart. The tone is somewhat old fashioned and amusing, and because it is a French text, it deals with who is going to get the cheese:

Maître Corbeau, sur un arbre perché,
Tenait en son bec un fromage.
Maître Renard, par l’odeur alléché,
Lui tint à peu près ce langage :
« Hé ! bonjour, Monsieur du Corbeau.
Que vous êtes joli ! que vous me semblez beau !
Sans mentir, si votre ramage
Se rapporte à votre plumage,
Vous êtes le Phoénix des hôtes de ces bois. »
A ces mots le Corbeau ne se sent pas de joie ;
Et pour montrer sa belle voix,
Il ouvre un large bec, laisse tomber sa proie.
Le Renard s’en saisit, et dit : « Mon bon Monsieur,
Apprenez que tout flatteur
Vit aux dépens de celui qui l’écoute :
Cette leçon vaut bien un fromage, sans doute. »
Le Corbeau, honteux et confus,
Jura, mais un peu tard, qu’on ne l’y prendrait plus.

Click here for an audio version of the text

Click here for an English translation

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