Saxe, John Godfrey

United States, (1816-1887)

A Classic Fable

  1. When all his comrades drank the magic bowl
  2. Of crafty Circe, changing form and soul
  3. Of men to brutes,—wolves, lions, bears, and swine,
  4. Ulysses only, full of strength divine,
  5. And matchless wisdom, ‘scaped the siren’s snare;
  6. Refused the tempting cup, and (triumph rare!)
  7. Returned another mixed with so much skill
  8. It charmed the charmer to the hero’s will,
  9. Till now she promised to restore his men
  10. From beastly shapes to human forms again,
  11. If so they willed: “Pray, let them freely choose,”
  12. The siren said; “but what if they refuse?”
  13. Straight to the brutes their ancient leader ran,
  14. And thus, with joy, his eager tongue began:
  15. “My presence here your quick release secures;
  16. Speak but the word,—for speech again is yours.”
  17. The lion answered first: “What, I? a king!
  18. To change my state for such a paltry thing
  19. As a mere cit or sailor? Let me be!
  20. I’m always armed, for I have claws , you see!
  21. As monarch of the forest now I range;
  22. Thanks for your kindness,—but I would not change.”
  23. Ulysses next approached the shaggy bear:
  24. “Alas! how ill your form and face compare
  25. With those, my friend, that you were wont to show
  26. To courtly dames a little while ago!”
  27. “Indeed,” the bear replied, “my present form
  28. Is one I find extremely nice and warm;
  29. And as to features, sir, the ursine race
  30. Have their own notions of a pretty face.
  31. I well remember what I used to be,—
  32. A shivering sailor on the stormy sea;
  33. And, faith! old man, I tell you plump and square,
  34. Compared with such, I ‘d rather be a bear!”
  35. Next to the wolf the anxious hero came,
  36. And begged the brute to change his ugly name
  37. And office: “What! destroy the shepherd’s flocks?
  38. Sure, such a life a noble nature shocks;
  39. Quit now, my old companion, while you can,
  40. Your thieving trade, and be an honest man!”
  41. “An honest man?” he howled, “nay, who d’ye mean?
  42. Faith! that ‘s a man that I have never seen!
  43. And as to eating sheep,—pray tell me when
  44. They ceased to be the prey and food of men?
  45. Savage? you say; why, men slay men, we find;
  46. Wolves, at the worst, are wont to spare their kind!”
  47. The hog came next. Change back? Not he! to tell
  48. The honest truth, he liked his ease too well;
  49. “Where will you find,” grunts out the filthy swine,
  50. “A life so blest with luxury as mine?
  51. To eat and drink and sleep,—grow plump and fat,—
  52. What more, I ask, can mortal wish than that?”
  53. So answered all the rest, the small and great,
  54. Each quite contented with his beastly state;
  55. Each spurning manhood and its joys to boot,
  56. To be a lawless, lazy, sensual brute.

© John Godfrey Saxe. The poetical works of John Godfrey Saxe. Houghton, Mifflin and Company, (1889).


  1. X.
  2. ‘T is a curious fact as ever was known
  3. In human nature, but often shown
  4. Alike in castle and cottage,
  5. That pride, like pigs of a certain breed,
  6. Will manage to live and thrive on “feed”
  7. As poor as a pauper’s pottage!

© John Godfrey Saxe. The poetical works of John Godfrey Saxe. Houghton, Mifflin and Company, (1889).


  1. A Pig and Sheep together slept
  2. In the same farm-yard; and with these
  3. A gallant Cock his vigils kept,—
  4. Who, with his fellows, dwelt in peace.
  5. “A pleasant sort of life is this,”
  6. The Porker said. “Say, Madam Sheep !
  7. Is not the highest earthly bliss
  8. To lie at ease, and eat and sleep?
  9. “For me, I think the perfect leisure
  10. And luxury in which we live,
  11. Worth more than all the active pleasure
  12. That men or gods have power to give!”
  13. The woolly dame has naught to say,—
  14. Too meek to answer; though she tries,
  15. While listening in a civil way,
  16. To look (in vain!) extremely wise!
  17. But Chanticleer , who chanced to hear
  18. These sage reflections, cocked his eye,
  19. Gave a shrill crow his throat to clear,
  20. And thus to Piggie made reply:—
  21. “A sleepy life, I must confess,
  22. Were very little to my taste;
  23. To live—like you—in idleness,
  24. Of time is, sure, a foolish waste.
  25. “To rule the roost, and strut about,
  26. That ‘s happiness, in my belief;
  27. A little sleep is well, no doubt,
  28. But, for oné’s health, it should be brief.
  29. “In fact, I ‘ve tried it; and I find
  30. One’s slumbers should be always light;
  31. Sleep surely stupefies the mind,
  32. While watching makes it clear and bright.”
  33. While thus they argue, loud and long,
  34. The patient Sheep has listened well;
  35. But which is right and which is wrong
  36. Is something more than she can tell.
  37. She little dreams the wranglers draw
  38. (Like other critics, great and small)
  39. Each from himself the narrow law
  40. By which he seeks to govern all!

© John Godfrey Saxe. The poetical works of John Godfrey Saxe. Houghton, Mifflin and Company, (1889).

About the Poet

John Godfrey Saxe I (1816-1887) was an American poet, journalist, lecturer and satirist. Raised in a strict Methodist home, Saxe briefly attended Wesleyan University, later graduating from Middlebury College in 1839. He was admitted to the Vermont bar in 1843 and tried to run a business with his older brother, Charles Jewett Saxe.

Bored by his legal work, Saxe began publishing poems for local and regional newspapers, eventually securing a book contract for a poetry volume. Leaving the family business, his career as poet and lecturer flourished.

Saxe is perhaps best known for his re-telling of the parable from India, “The Blindmen and the Elephant”, which introduced the story to a Western audience. His poems written during more somber periods remain some of his most beautiful and enduring, including “Little Jerry the Miller” about his father’s mill assistant. Few of the satirical works, which had made him famous, are read today. [adapted from Wikipedia, DES-11/10]

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