Les Fables de La Fontaine: La Lionne et l’Ourse Posted by on Aug 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

Here is yet another fable from the inimitable Jean de La Fontaine. La Lionne et l’Ourse (The Lioness and the Bear) examines the discussion between a bear and a lioness who had just lost her cubs. The story may seem a little difficult to decipher, but as with all of La Fontaine’s fables, there is a moral to the story and a lesson to be learned.

Keep in mind this is not an exact word for word translation of the original French, but the gist of the story remains unchanged.

Mère Lionne avait perdu son fan :
Un chasseur l’avait pris. La pauvre infortunée
Poussait un tel rugissement
Que toute la forêt était importunée.
La nuit ni son obscurité,
Son silence, et ses autres charmes,
De la reine des bois n’arrêtait les vacarmes :
Nul animal n’était du sommeil visité.
L’Ourse enfin lui dit : « Ma commère,
Un mot sans plus : tous les enfants
Qui sont passés entre vos dents
N’avaient-ils ni père ni mère ?
– Ils en avaient. – S’il est ainsi,
Et qu’aucun de leur mort n’ait nos têtes rompues,
Si tant de mères se sont tues,
Que ne vous taisez-vous aussi ?
– Moi, me taire ! moi, malheureuse !
Ah ! j’ai perdu mon fils ? il me faudra traîner
Une vieillesse douloureuse !
– Dites-moi, qui vous force à vous y condamner ?
– Hélas ! c’est le Destin qui me hait. 

– Ces paroles
Ont été de tout temps en la bouche de tous. »
Misérables humains, ceci s’adresse à vous.
Je n’entends résonner que des plaintes frivoles.
Quiconque, en pareil cas se croit haï des Cieux,
Qu’il considère Hécube, il rendra grâce aux Dieux.


The lioness had lost her young;

A hunter stole it from the vale;

The forests and the mountains rung

Responsive to her hideous wail.

Nor night, nor charms of sweet repose,

Could still the loud lament that rose

From that grim forest queen.

No animal, as you might think,

With such a noise could sleep a wink.

A bear presumed to intervene.

‘One word, sweet friend,’ quoth she,

‘And that is all, from me.

The young that through your teeth have pass’d,

In file unbroken by a fast,

Had they nor dam nor sire?’

‘They had them both.’ ‘Then I desire,

Since all their deaths caused no such grievous riot,

While mothers died of grief beneath your fiat,

To know why you yourself cannot be quiet?’

‘I quiet!–I!–a wretch bereaved!

My only son!–such anguish be relieved!

No, never! All for me below

Is but a life of tears and woe!’–

‘But say, why doom yourself to sorrow so?’–

‘Alas! ’tis Destiny that is my foe.’


Such language, since the mortal fall,

Has fallen from the lips of all.

Ye human wretches, give your heed;

For your complaints there’s little need.

Let him who thinks his own the hardest case,

Some widowed, childless Hecuba behold,

Herself to toil and shame of slavery sold,

And he will own the wealth of heavenly grace.


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