Top 20 Most Popular Poems of Jean de La Fontaine

These are the top twenty (20) most popular poems of Jean de La Fontaine.

From The Cat Metamorphosed Into A Woman. to The Hare And The Tortoise..

If you want to know his greatest poems of all time, then this poetry collection is for you.

Keep reading!…

The Cat Metamorphosed Into A Woman.


A bachelor caress’d his cat,
A darling, fair, and delicate;
So deep in love, he thought her mew
The sweetest voice he ever knew.
By prayers, and tears, and magic art,
The man got Fate to take his part;
And, lo! one morning at his side
His cat, transform’d, became his bride.
In wedded state our man was seen
The fool in courtship he had been.
No lover e’er was so bewitch’d
By any maiden’s charms
As was this husband, so enrich’d
By hers within his arms.
He praised her beauties, this and that,
And saw there nothing of the cat.
In short, by passion’s aid, he
Thought her a perfect lady.


‘Twas night: some carpet-gnawing mice
Disturb’d the nuptial joys.
Excited by the noise,
The bride sprang at them in a trice;
The mice were scared and fled.
The bride, scarce in her bed,
The gnawing heard, and sprang again, –
And this time not in vain,
For, in this novel form array’d,
Of her the mice were less afraid.
Through life she loved this mousing course,
So great is stubborn nature’s force.


In mockery of change, the old
Will keep their youthful bent.
When once the cloth has got its fold,
The smelling-pot its scent,
In vain your efforts and your care
To make them other than they are.
To work reform, do what you will,
Old habit will be habit still.
Nor fork[2] nor strap can mend its manners,
Nor cudgel-blows beat down its banners.
Secure the doors against the renter,
And through the windows it will enter.

Jean de La Fontaine

The Sculptor And The Statue Of Jupiter.


A block of marble was so fine,
To buy it did a sculptor hasten.
‘What shall my chisel, now ’tis mine –
A god, a table, or a basin?’


‘A god,’ said he, ‘the thing shall be;
I’ll arm it, too, with thunder.
Let people quake, and bow the knee
With reverential wonder.’


So well the cunning artist wrought
All things within a mortal’s reach,
That soon the marble wanted nought
Of being Jupiter, but speech.


Indeed, the man whose skill did make
Had scarcely laid his chisel down,
Before himself began to quake,
And fear his manufacture’s frown.


And even this excess of faith
The poet once scarce fell behind,
The hatred fearing, and the wrath,
Of gods the product of his mind.


This trait we see in infancy
Between the baby and its doll,
Of wax or china, it may be –
A pocket stuff’d, or folded shawl.


Imagination rules the heart:
And here we find the fountain head
From whence the pagan errors start,
That o’er the teeming nations spread.


With violent and flaming zeal,
Each takes his own chimera’s part;
Pygmalion[1] doth a passion feel
For Venus chisel’d by his art.


All men, as far as in them lies,
Create realities of dreams.
To truth our nature proves but ice;
To falsehood, fire it seems.

Jean de La Fontaine

The Bitch And Her Friend.


A bitch, that felt her time approaching,
And had no place for parturition,
Went to a female friend, and, broaching
Her delicate condition,
Got leave herself to shut
Within the other’s hut.
At proper time the lender came
Her little premises to claim.
The bitch crawl’d meekly to the door,
And humbly begg’d a fortnight more.
Her little pups, she said, could hardly walk.
In short, the lender yielded to her talk.
The second term expired; the friend had come
To take possession of her house and home.
The bitch, this time, as if she would have bit her,
Replied, ‘I’m ready, madam, with my litter,
To go when you can turn me out.’
Her pups, you see, were fierce and stout.


The creditor, from whom a villain borrows,
Will fewer shillings get again than sorrows.
If you have trusted people of this sort,
You’ll have to plead, and dun, and fight; in short,
If in your house you let one step a foot,
He’ll surely step the other in to boot.

Jean de La Fontaine

The Bird Wounded By An Arrow.


A bird, with plumed arrow shot,
In dying case deplored her lot:
‘Alas!’ she cried, ‘the anguish of the thought!
This ruin partly by myself was brought!
Hard-hearted men! from us to borrow
What wings to us the fatal arrow!
But mock us not, ye cruel race,
For you must often take our place.’


The work of half the human brothers
Is making arms against the others.

Jean de La Fontaine

The Old Woman And Her Two Servants.


A beldam kept two spinning maids,
Who plied so handily their trades,
Those spinning sisters down below
Were bunglers when compared with these.
No care did this old woman know
But giving tasks as she might please.
No sooner did the god of day
His glorious locks enkindle,
Than both the wheels began to play,
And from each whirling spindle
Forth danced the thread right merrily,
And back was coil’d unceasingly.
Soon as the dawn, I say, its tresses show’d,
A graceless cock most punctual crow’d.
The beldam roused, more graceless yet,
In greasy petticoat bedight,
Struck up her farthing light,
And then forthwith the bed beset,
Where deeply, blessedly did snore
Those two maid-servants tired and poor.
One oped an eye, an arm one stretch’d,
And both their breath most sadly fetch’d,
This threat concealing in the sigh –
‘That cursed cock shall surely die!’
And so he did: – they cut his throat,
And put to sleep his rousing note.
And yet this murder mended not
The cruel hardship of their lot;
For now the twain were scarce in bed
Before they heard the summons dread.
The beldam, full of apprehension
Lest oversleep should cause detention,
Ran like a goblin through her mansion.
Thus often, when one thinks
To clear himself from ill,
His effort only sinks
Him in the deeper still.
The beldam, acting for the cock,
Was Scylla for Charybdis’ rock.

Jean de La Fontaine

The Council Held By The Rats


Old Rodilard, a certain cat,
Such havoc of the rats had made,
‘Twas difficult to find a rat
With nature’s debt unpaid.
The few that did remain,
To leave their holes afraid,
From usual food abstain,
Not eating half their fill.
And wonder no one will
That one who made of rats his revel,
With rats pass’d not for cat, but devil.
Now, on a day, this dread rat-eater,
Who had a wife, went out to meet her;
And while he held his caterwauling,
The unkill’d rats, their chapter calling,
Discuss’d the point, in grave debate,
How they might shun impending fate.
Their dean, a prudent rat,
Thought best, and better soon than late,
To bell the fatal cat;
That, when he took his hunting round,
The rats, well caution’d by the sound,
Might hide in safety under ground;
Indeed he knew no other means.
And all the rest
At once confess’d
Their minds were with the dean’s.
No better plan, they all believed,
Could possibly have been conceived,
No doubt the thing would work right well,
If any one would hang the bell.
But, one by one, said every rat,
‘I’m not so big a fool as that.’
The plan, knock’d up in this respect,
The council closed without effect.


And many a council I have seen,
Or reverend chapter with its dean,
That, thus resolving wisely,
Fell through like this precisely.


To argue or refute
Wise counsellors abound;
The man to execute
Is harder to be found.

Jean de La Fontaine

The Acorn And The Pumpkin.


God’s works are good. This truth to prove
Around the world I need not move;
I do it by the nearest pumpkin.
‘This fruit so large, on vine so small,’
Surveying once, exclaim’d a bumpkin –
‘What could He mean who made us all?
He’s left this pumpkin out of place.
If I had order’d in the case,
Upon that oak it should have hung –
A noble fruit as ever swung
To grace a tree so firm and strong.
Indeed, it was a great mistake,
As this discovery teaches,
That I myself did not partake
His counsels whom my curate preaches.
All things had then in order come;
This acorn, for example,
Not bigger than my thumb,
Had not disgraced a tree so ample.
The more I think, the more I wonder
To see outraged proportion’s laws,
And that without the slightest cause;
God surely made an awkward blunder.’
With such reflections proudly fraught,
Our sage grew tired of mighty thought,
And threw himself on Nature’s lap,
Beneath an oak, – to take his nap.
Plump on his nose, by lucky hap,
An acorn fell: he waked, and in
The matted beard that graced his chin,
He found the cause of such a bruise
As made him different language use.
‘O! O!’ he cried; ‘I bleed! I bleed!
And this is what has done the deed!
But, truly, what had been my fate,
Had this had half a pumpkin’s weight!
I see that God had reasons good,
And all his works well understood.’
Thus home he went in humbler mood.

Jean de La Fontaine

The Doctors.


The selfsame patient put to test
Two doctors, Fear-the-worst and Hope-the-best.
The latter hoped; the former did maintain
The man would take all medicine in vain.
By different cures the patient was beset,
But erelong cancell’d nature’s debt,
While nursed
As was prescribed by Fear-the-worst.
But over the disease both triumph’d still.
Said one, ‘I well foresaw his death.’
‘Yes,’ said the other, ‘but my pill
Would certainly have saved his breath.’

Jean de La Fontaine

The Bat And The Two Weasels.


A blundering bat once stuck her head
Into a wakeful weasel’s bed;
Whereat the mistress of the house,
A deadly foe of rats and mice,
Was making ready in a trice
To eat the stranger as a mouse.
‘What! do you dare,’ she said, ‘to creep in
The very bed I sometimes sleep in,
Now, after all the provocation
I’ve suffer’d from your thievish nation?
Are you not really a mouse,
That gnawing pest of every house,
Your special aim to do the cheese ill?
Ay, that you are, or I’m no weasel.’
‘I beg your pardon,’ said the bat;
‘My kind is very far from that.
What! I a mouse! Who told you such a lie?
Why, ma’am, I am a bird;
And, if you doubt my word,
Just see the wings with which I fly.
Long live the mice that cleave the sky!’
These reasons had so fair a show,
The weasel let the creature go.


By some strange fancy led,
The same wise blunderhead,
But two or three days later,
Had chosen for her rest
Another weasel’s nest,
This last, of birds a special hater.
New peril brought this step absurd;
Without a moment’s thought or puzzle,
Dame weasel oped her peaked muzzle
To eat th’ intruder as a bird.
‘Hold! do not wrong me,’ cried the bat;
‘I’m truly no such thing as that.
Your eyesight strange conclusions gathers.
What makes a bird, I pray? Its feathers.
I’m cousin of the mice and rats.
Great Jupiter confound the cats!’
The bat, by such adroit replying,
Twice saved herself from dying.


And many a human stranger
Thus turns his coat in danger;
And sings, as suits, where’er he goes,
‘God save the king!’ – or ‘save his foes!’

Jean de La Fontaine

The City Mouse And The Country Mouse.


A City Mouse, with ways polite,
A Country Mouse invited
To sup with him and spend the night.
Said Country Mouse: “De – lighted!”
In truth it proved a royal treat,
With everything that’s good to eat.


Alas! When they had just begun
To gobble their dinner,
A knock was heard that made them run.
The City Mouse seemed thinner.
And as they scampered and turned tail,
He saw the Country Mouse grow pale.


The knocking ceased. A false alarm!
The City Mouse grew braver.
“Come back!” he cried. “No, no! The farm,
Where I’ll not quake or quaver,
Suits me,” replied the Country Mouse.
“You’re welcome to your city house.”

Jean de La Fontaine

Fortune And The Boy.


Beside a well, uncurb’d and deep,
A schoolboy laid him down to sleep:
(Such rogues can do so anywhere.)
If some kind man had seen him there,
He would have leap’d as if distracted;
But Fortune much more wisely acted;
For, passing by, she softly waked the child,
Thus whispering in accents mild:
‘I save your life, my little dear,
And beg you not to venture here
Again, for had you fallen in,
I should have had to bear the sin;
But I demand, in reason’s name,
If for your rashness I’m to blame?’
With this the goddess went her way.
I like her logic, I must say.
There takes place nothing on this planet,
But Fortune ends, whoe’er began it.
In all adventures good or ill,
We look to her to foot the bill.
Has one a stupid, empty pate,
That serves him never till too late,
He clears himself by blaming Fate!

Jean de La Fontaine

The Cat And The Old Rat.


A story-writer of our sort
Historifies, in short,
Of one that may be reckon’d
A Rodilard the Second, – [2]
The Alexander of the cats,
The Attila,[3] the scourge of rats,
Whose fierce and whisker’d head
Among the latter spread,
A league around, its dread;
Who seem’d, indeed, determined
The world should be unvermined.
The planks with props more false than slim,
The tempting heaps of poison’d meal,
The traps of wire and traps of steel,
Were only play compared with him.
At length, so sadly were they scared.
The rats and mice no longer dared
To show their thievish faces
Outside their hiding-places,
Thus shunning all pursuit; whereat
Our crafty General Cat
Contrived to hang himself, as dead,
Beside the wall with downward head,
Resisting gravitation’s laws
By clinging with his hinder claws
To some small bit of string.
The rats esteem’d the thing
A judgment for some naughty deed,
Some thievish snatch,
Or ugly scratch;
And thought their foe had got his meed
By being hung indeed.
With hope elated all
Of laughing at his funeral,
They thrust their noses out in air;
And now to show their heads they dare;
Now dodging back, now venturing more;
At last upon the larder’s store
They fall to filching, as of yore.
A scanty feast enjoy’d these shallows;
Down dropp’d the hung one from his gallows,
And of the hindmost caught.
‘Some other tricks to me are known,’
Said he, while tearing bone from bone,
‘By long experience taught;
The point is settled, free from doubt,
That from your holes you shall come out.’
His threat as good as prophecy
Was proved by Mr. Mildandsly;
For, putting on a mealy robe,
He squatted in an open tub,
And held his purring and his breath; –
Out came the vermin to their death.
On this occasion, one old stager,
A rat as grey as any badger,
Who had in battle lost his tail,
Abstained from smelling at the meal;
And cried, far off, ‘Ah! General Cat,
I much suspect a heap like that;
Your meal is not the thing, perhaps,
For one who knows somewhat of traps;
Should you a sack of meal become,
I’d let you be, and stay at home.’


Well said, I think, and prudently,
By one who knew distrust to be
The parent of security.

Jean de La Fontaine

The Frogs Asking A King.


A certain commonwealth aquatic,
Grown tired of order democratic,
By clamouring in the ears of Jove, effected
Its being to a monarch’s power subjected.
Jove flung it down, at first, a king pacific.
Who nathless fell with such a splash terrific,
The marshy folks, a foolish race and timid,
Made breathless haste to get from him hid.
They dived into the mud beneath the water,
Or found among the reeds and rushes quarter.
And long it was they dared not see
The dreadful face of majesty,
Supposing that some monstrous frog
Had been sent down to rule the bog.
The king was really a log,
Whose gravity inspired with awe
The first that, from his hiding-place
Forth venturing, astonish’d, saw
The royal blockhead’s face.
With trembling and with fear,
At last he drew quite near.
Another follow’d, and another yet,
Till quite a crowd at last were met;
Who, growing fast and strangely bolder,
Perch’d soon upon the royal shoulder.
His gracious majesty kept still,
And let his people work their will.
Clack, clack! what din beset the ears of Jove?
‘We want a king,’ the people said, ‘to move!’
The god straight sent them down a crane,
Who caught and slew them without measure,
And gulp’d their carcasses at pleasure;
Whereat the frogs more wofully complain.
‘What! what!’ great Jupiter replied;
‘By your desires must I be tied?
Think you such government is bad?
You should have kept what first you had;
Which having blindly fail’d to do,
It had been prudent still for you
To let that former king suffice,
More meek and mild, if not so wise.
With this now make yourselves content,
Lest for your sins a worse be sent.’

Jean de La Fontaine

The Acorn and the Pumpkin.


Once there was a country bumpkin
Who observed a great big pumpkin
To a slender stem attached;
While upon an oak tree nourished,
Little acorns grew and flourished.
“Bah!” said he. “That’s badly matched.”


“If, despite my humble station,
I’d a hand in this Creation,
Pumpkins on the oaks would be;
And the acorn, light and little,
On this pumpkin stem so brittle
Would be placed by clever Me.”


Then, fatigued with so much thought, he
Rest beneath the oak tree sought. He
Soon in slumber found repose
But, alas! An acorn, falling
On the spot where he lay sprawling,
Hit him – plump! – Upon the nose.


Up he jumped – a wiser bumpkin.
“Gosh!” he said. “Suppose a pumpkin
Came a-fallin’ on my face!
After all, if I had made things,
I’ll allow that I’m afraid things
Might be some what out of place.”

Jean de La Fontaine

The Fox And The Grapes.


A fox, almost with hunger dying,
Some grapes upon a trellis spying,
To all appearance ripe, clad in
Their tempting russet skin,
Most gladly would have eat them;
But since he could not get them,
So far above his reach the vine –
‘They’re sour,’ he said; ‘such grapes as these,
The dogs may eat them if they please!’


Did he not better than to whine?

Jean de La Fontaine

The Dog And Cat.


A dog and cat, messmates for life,
Were often falling into strife,
Which came to scratching, growls, and snaps,
And spitting in the face, perhaps.
A neighbour dog once chanced to call
Just at the outset of their brawl,
And, thinking Tray was cross and cruel,
To snarl so sharp at Mrs. Mew-well,
Growl’d rather roughly in his ear.
‘And who are you to interfere?’
Exclaim’d the cat, while in his face she flew;
And, as was wise, he suddenly withdrew.


It seems, in spite of all his snarling,
And hers, that Tray was still her darling.

Jean de La Fontaine

The Fox And The Goat.


A fox once journey’d, and for company
A certain bearded, horned goat had he;
Which goat no further than his nose could see.
The fox was deeply versed in trickery.
These travellers did thirst compel
To seek the bottom of a well.
There, having drunk enough for two,
Says fox, ‘My friend, what shall we do?
‘Tis time that we were thinking
Of something else than drinking.
Raise you your feet upon the wall,
And stick your horns up straight and tall;
Then up your back I’ll climb with ease,
And draw you after, if you please.’
‘Yes, by my beard,’ the other said,
”Tis just the thing. I like a head
Well stock’d with sense, like thine.
Had it been left to mine,
I do confess,
I never should have thought of this.’
So Renard clamber’d out,
And, leaving there the goat,
Discharged his obligations
By preaching thus on patience: –
‘Had Heaven put sense thy head within,
To match the beard upon thy chin,
Thou wouldst have thought a bit,
Before descending such a pit.
I’m out of it; good bye:
With prudent effort try
Yourself to extricate.
For me, affairs of state
Permit me not to wait.’


Whatever way you wend,
Consider well the end.

Jean de La Fontaine

The Cock And The Pearl.


A cock scratch’d up, one day,
A pearl of purest ray,
Which to a jeweller he bore.
‘I think it fine,’ he said,
‘But yet a crumb of bread
To me were worth a great deal more.’


So did a dunce inherit
A manuscript of merit,
Which to a publisher he bore.
”Tis good,’ said he, ‘I’m told,
Yet any coin of gold
To me were worth a great deal more.’

Jean de La Fontaine

The Hen With The Golden Eggs.


How avarice loseth all,
By striving all to gain,
I need no witness call
But him whose thrifty hen,
As by the fable we are told,
Laid every day an egg of gold.
‘She hath a treasure in her body,’
Bethinks the avaricious noddy.
He kills and opens – vexed to find
All things like hens of common kind.
Thus spoil’d the source of all his riches,
To misers he a lesson teaches.
In these last changes of the moon,
How often doth one see
Men made as poor as he
By force of getting rich too soon!

Jean de La Fontaine

The Hare And The Tortoise.


To win a race, the swiftness of a dart
Availeth not without a timely start.
The hare and 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 the 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 honour
To take late 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?
You’re beat! and yet, you must allow,
I bore my house upon my back.’

Jean de La Fontaine

All of these poems are masterpieces! No wonder Jean de La Fontaine was known above all for his Fables, which provided an ideal for following fabulists across Europe and France. His skills in story-telling through his poems are indeed magnificent!

Of course, I wouldn’t miss reading my favorite work in this collection―The Bird Wounded By An Arrow. Despite being simple, it conveyed a deeper meaning that made it more interesting.

What about you? What’s your most favorite poem of Jean de La Fontaine?

Do you still want to add another of his poem to this list? Let me know in the comment section below! 😉

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