Fables and Parables (Bajki i przypowieści, 1779), by Ignacy Krasicki (1735–1801), is a work in a long international tradition of fable-writing that reaches back to antiquity. They have been described as being, "ike LaFontaine's ,... amongst the best ever written, while in colour they are distinctly original, because Polish." They are, according to Czesław Miłosz, "the most durable among Krasicki's poems."
Emulating the fables of the ancient Greek Aesop, the Macedonian-Roman Phaedrus, the Polish Biernat of Lublin, and the Frenchman Jean de La Fontaine, and anticipating Russia's Ivan Krylov, the Pole Krasicki populates his fables with anthropomorphized animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature, in epigrammatic expressions of a skeptical, ironic view of the world.
That view is informed by Krasicki's observations of human nature and of national and international politics in his day—including the predicament of the expiring Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Just seven years earlier (1772), the Commonwealth had experienced the first of three partitions that would, by 1795, totally expunge the Commonwealth from the political map of Europe.
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth would fall victim to the aggression of three powerful neighbors much as, in Krasicki's fable of "The Lamb and the Wolves," the lamb falls prey to the two wolves. The First Partition had rendered Krasicki—an intimate of Poland's last king, Stanisław August Poniatowski—involuntarily a subject of that Partition's instigator, Prussia's King Frederick II ("the Great"). Krasicki would, unlike Frederick, survive to witness the final dismemberment of the Commonwealth.
Krasicki's parables (e.g., "Abuzei and Tair," "The Blind Man and the Lame," "Son and Father," "The Farmer," "Child and Father," "The Master and His Dog," "The King and the Scribes," and "The Drunkard") do not, by definition, employ the anthropomorphization that characterizes the fables. Instead, his parables point elegant moral lessons drawn from more quotidian human life.
Krasicki's, writes Czesław Miłosz, "is a world where the strong win and the weak lose in a sort of immutable order... Reason is exalted as the human equivalent of animal strength: the survive, the stupid perish."
Miłosz writes:Poetry for was a more concise and elegant prose, and originality of subject had no importance. Thus borrowed the subjects of his fables from the enormous body of fabular literature starting with Aesop and finishing with his own French contemporaries. He also borrowed from LaFontaine, especially in... his New Fables... published, but whatever he took was always completely transformed. His extreme conciseness is best seen if one counts the number of words in the original author's version and compares it to that of Krasicki's on the same subject. The pleasure... for the poet for the reader... is probably due to the of a whole story, sometimes even a novella, into a few lines, and among Krasicki's best... fables which only one quatrain where the author's pen moves in one rush toward the final pointe.
The Fables and Parables are written as 13-syllable lines, in couplets that rhyme aa bb... They range in length from 2 to 18 lines. The introductory invocation "To the Children," however, while employing the same rhyme scheme, uses lines of 11 syllables.
Curiously, the fables include two with the identical title, "The Stream and the River"; two with the identical title, "The Lion and the Beasts"; and two with the identical title, "The Wolf and the Sheep."
Critics generally prefer Krasicki's more concise Fables and Parables (1779), sampled here, over his later New Fables, published posthumously in 1802. This is consistent with Krasicki's own dictum in On Versification and Versifiers that "A fable should be brief, clear and, so far as possible, preserve the truth."
In the same treatise, Krasicki explains that a fable "is a story commonly ascribed to animals, that people who read it might take instruction from example or speech...; it originated in eastern lands where supreme governance reposed in the hands of autocrats. Thus, when it was feared to proclaim the truth openly, simulacra were employed in fables so that—if only in this way—the truth might be agreeable alike to the ruled and to the rulers."
Below are 14 samples of Krasicki's Fables and Parables (1779) in English translation by Christopher Kasparek. Another 48 items may be found at Wikisource.
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... Translated from the Polish by Christopher Kasparek. ...
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