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Burton: Tale of the Wolf and the Fox

[Go back to Tale of the Water-Fowl and the Tortoise]

Know, O King, that a fox and a wolf once cohabited in the same den, harbouring therein together by day and resorting thither by night; but the wolf was cruel and oppressive to the fox. They abode thus awhile, till it so befel that the fox exhorted the wolf to use gentle dealing and leave off his ill deeds, saying, "If thou persist in thine arrogance, belike Allah will give the son of Adam power over thee, for he is past master in guile and wile; and by his artifice he bringeth down the birds from the firmament and he haleth the mighty fish forth of the flood-waters: and he cutteth the mountain and transporteth it from place to place. All this is of his craft and wiliness: wherefore do thou betake thyself to equity and fair dealing and leave frowardness and tyranny; and thou shalt fare all the better for it." But the wolf would not accept his counsel and answered him roughly, saying, "What right hast thou to speak of matters of weight and importance?" And he dealt the fox a cuff that laid him senseless; but, when he revived, he smiled in the wolf's face and, excusing himself for his unseemly speech, repeated these two couplets,

"If any sin I sinned, or did I aught * In love of you, which hateful mischief wrought;
My sin I sore repent and pardon sue; * So give the sinner gift of pardon sought."

The wolf accepted his excuse and held his hand from further ill-treatment, saying, "Speak not of whatso concerneth thee not, lest thou hear what will please thee not." Answered the fox, "To hear is to obey!"--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.

When it was the One Hundred and Forty-ninth Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that quoth the wolf to the fox, "Speak not of whatso concerneth thee not, lest thou hear what will please thee not!" Answered the fox, "To hear is to obey! I will abstain henceforth from what pleaseth thee not; for the sage saith, 'Have a care that thou speak not of that whereof thou art not asked; leave that which concerneth thee not for that which concerneth thee, and by no means lavish good counsel on the wrongous, for they will repay it to thee with wrong.'" And reflecting on the words of the wolf he smiled in his face, but in his heart he meditated treachery against him and privily said, "There is no help but that I compass the destruction of this wolf." So he bore with his injurious usage, saying to himself, "Verily insolence and evil-speaking are causes of perdition and cast into confusion, and it is said, 'The insolent is shent and the ignorant doth repent; and whose feareth, to him safety is sent': moderation marketh the noble and gentle manners are of gains the grandest. It behoveth me to dissemble with this tyrant and needs must he be cast down." Then quoth he to the wolf, "Verily, the Lord pardoneth his erring servant and relenteth towards him, if he confess his offences; and I am a weak slave and have offended in presuming to counsel thee. If thou knewest the pain that befel me by thy buffet, thou wouldst ken that even the elephant could not stand against it nor endure it: but I complain not of this blow's hurt, because of the joy and gladness that hath betided me through it; for though it was to me exceeding sore yet was its issue of the happiest. And with sooth saith the sage, 'The blow of the teacher is at first right hurtful, but the end of it is sweeter than strained honey.'" Quoth the wolf, "I pardon thine offence and I cancel thy fault; but beware of my force and avow thyself my thrall; for thou hast learned my severity unto him who showeth his hostility!" Thereupon the fox prostrated himself before the wolf, saying, "Allah lengthen thy life and mayst thou never cease to overthrow thy foes!" And he stinted not to fear the wolf and to wheedle him and dissemble with him. Now it came to pass that one day, the fox went to a vineyard and saw a breach in its walls; but he mistrusted it and said to himself, "Verily, for this breach there must be some cause and the old saw saith, 'Whoso seeth a cleft in the earth and shunneth it not and is not wary in approaching it, the same is self-deluded and exposeth himself to danger and destruction.' Indeed, it is well known that some folk make the figure of a fox in their vineyards; nay, they even set before the semblance grapes in plates, that foxes may see it and come to it and fall into perdition. In very sooth I regard this breach as a snare and the proverb saith, 'Caution is one half of cleverness.' Now prudence requireth that I examine this breach and see if there be aught therein which may lead to perdition; and coveting shall not make me cast myself into destruction." So he went up to the hole and walked round it right warily, and lo! it was a deep pit, which the owner of the vineyard had dug to trap therein the wild beasts which laid waste his vines. Then he said to himself, "Thou hast gained, for that thou hast refrained!"; and he looked and saw that the hole was lightly covered with dust and matting. So he drew back from it saying, "Praised be Allah that I was wary of it! I hope that my enemy, the wolf, who maketh my life miserable, will fall into it; so will the vineyard be left to me and I shall enjoy it alone and dwell therein at peace." Saying thus, he shook his head and laughed a loud laugh and began versifying,

"Would Heaven I saw at this hour * The Wolf fallen down in this well,
He who anguisht my heart for so long, * And garred me drain eisel and fel!
Heaven grant after this I may live * Free of Wolf for long fortunate spell
When I've rid grapes and vineyard of him, * And in bunch-spoiling happily dwell."

His verse being finished he returned in haste to the wolf and said to him, "Allah hath made plain for thee the way into the vineyard without toil and moil. This is of thine auspicious fortune; so good luck to thee and mayest thou enjoy the plentiful plunder and the profuse provaunt which Allah hath opened up to thee without trouble!" Asked the wolf, "What proof hast thou of what thou assertest?": and the fox answered, "I went up to the vineyard and found that the owner was dead, having been torn to pieces by wolves: so I entered the orchard and saw the fruit shining upon the trees." The wolf doubted not the fox's report and his gluttony gat hold of him; so he arose and repaired to the cleft, for that greed blinded him; whilst the fox falling behind him lay as one dead, quoting to the case the following couplet,

"For Layla's favour dost thou greed? But, bear in mind * Greed is a yoke of harmful weight on neck of man."

And when the wolf had reached the breach the fox said, "Enter the vineyard: thou art spared the trouble of climbing a ladder, for the garden-wall is broken down, and with Allah it resteth to fulfil the benefit." So the wolf went on walking and thought to enter the vineyard; but when he came to the middle of the pit-covering he fell through; whereupon the fox shook for joy and gladness; his care and concern left him and he sang out for delight and improvised these couplets,

"Fortune had mercy on the soul of me, * And for my torments now shows clemency,
Granting whatever gift my heart desired, * And far removing what I feared to see:
I will, good sooth, excuse her all her sins * She sinned in days gone by and much sinned she:
Yea, her injustice she hath shown in this, * She whitened locks that were so black of blee:
But now for this same wolf escape there's none, * Of death and doom he hath full certainty.
Then all the vineyard comes beneath my rule, * I'll brook no partner who's so fond a fool."

Then the fox looked into the cleft and, seeing the wolf weeping in repentance and sorrow for himself, wept with him; whereupon the wolf raised his head to him and asked, "Is it of pity for me thou weepest, O Father of the Fortlet?" Answered the fox, "No, by Him who cast thee into this pit! I weep for the length of thy past life and for regret that thou didst not fall into the pit before this day; for hadst thou done so before I foregathered with thee, I had rested and enjoyed repose: but thou wast spared till the fulfilment of thine allotted term and thy destined time." Then the wolf said to him as one jesting, "O evil-doer, go to my mother and tell her what hath befallen me; haply she may devise some device for my release." Replied the fox, "Of a truth thou hast been brought to destruction by the excess of thy greed and thine exceeding gluttony, since thou art fallen into a pit whence thou wilt never escape. Knowest thou not the common proverb, O thou witless wolf, 'Whoso taketh no thought as to how things end, him shall Fate never befriend nor shall he safe from perils wend." "O Reynard," quoth the wolf, "thou was wont to show me fondness and covet my friendliness and fear the greatness of my strength. Hate me not rancorously because of that I did with thee; for he who hath power and forgiveth, his reward Allah giveth; even as saith the poet,

'Sow kindness-seed in the unfittest stead; * 'Twill not be wasted whereso thou shalt sow:
For kindness albe buried long, yet none * Shall reap the crop save sower who garred it grow.'"

Rejoined the fox, "O witlessest of beasts of prey and stupidest of the wild brutes which the wolds overstray! Hast thou forgotten thine arrogance and insolence and tyranny, and thy disregarding the due of goodfellowship and thy refusing to be advised by what the poet saith?

'Wrong not thy neighbour e'en if thou have power; * The wronger alway vengeance-harvest reaps:
Thine eyes shall sleep, while bides the wronged on wake * A-cursing thee; and Allah's eye ne'er sleeps.'"

"O Abu 'l-Hosayn," replied the wolf, "twit me not with my past sins; for forgiveness is expected of the generous and doing kind deeds is the truest of treasures. How well saith the poet,

'Haste to do kindness while thou hast much power, * For at all seasons thou hast not such power.'"

And he ceased not to humble himself before the fox and say, "Haply, thou canst do somewhat to deliver me from destruction." Replied the fox, "O thou wolf, thou witless, deluded, deceitful trickster! hope not for deliverance, for this is but the just reward of thy foul dealing and its due retaliation." Then he laughed with chops wide open and repeated these two couplets,

"No longer beguile me, * Thou'lt fail of thy will!
What can't be thou seekest; * Thou hast sown so reap Ill!"

Quoth the wolf, "O gentlest of ravenous beasts, I fain hold thee too faithful to leave me in this pit." Then he wept and complained and, with tears streaming from his eyes, recited these two couplets,

"O thou whose favours have been out of compt, * Whose gifts are more than may be numbered!
Never mischance befel me yet from time * But that I found thy hand right fain to aid."

"O thou ninny foe," quoth the fox, "how art thou reduced to humiliation and prostration and abjection and submission, after insolence and pride and tyranny and arrogance! Verily, I kept company with thee only for fear of thy fury and I cajoled thee without one hope of fair treatment from thee: but now trembling is come upon thee and vengeance hath overtaken thee." And he repeated these two couplets,

"O thou who seekest innocence to 'guile, * Thou'rt caught in trap of thine intentions vile:
Now drain the draught of shamefullest mischance, * And be with other wolves cut off, thou scroyle!"

Replied the wolf, "O thou clement one, speak not with the tongue of enemies nor look with their eyes; but fulfil the covenant of fellowship with me, ere the time of applying remedy cease to be. Rise and make ready to get me a rope and tie one end of it to a tree; then let the other down to me, that I may lay hold of it, so haply I shall from this my strait win free, and I will give thee all my hand possesseth of wealth and fee." Quoth the fox, "Thou persistest in conversation concerning what will not procure thy liberation. Hope not for this, for thou shalt never, never get of me wherewithal to set thee at liberty; but call to mind thy past misdeeds and the craft and perfidy thou didst imagine against me and bethink thee how near thou art to being stoned to death. For know that thy soul is about the world to quit and cease in it and depart from it; so shalt thou to destruction hie and ill is the abiding-place thou shalt aby!" Rejoined the wolf, "O Father of the Fortlet, hasten to return to amity and persist not in this rancorous enmity. Know that whoso from ruin saveth a soul, is as if he had quickened it and made it whole; and whoso saveth a soul alive, is as if he had saved all mankind. Follow not frowardness, for the wise forbid it: and it were most manifest frowardness to leave me in this pit draining the agony of death and dight to look upon mine own doom, whenas it lieth in thy power to deliver me from my stowre. So do thy best to release me and deal with me benevolently." Answered the fox, "O thou base and barbarous wretch, I compare thee, because of the fairness of thy professions and expressions, and the foulness of thy intentions and thy inventions to the Falcon and the Partridge." Asked the wolf, "How so?"; and the fox began to tell...

[Go to The Tale of the Falcon and the Partridge]

Burton, Richard (1821-1890). The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night. London. 1885-1888. Gutenberg Vol. I. Gutenberg Vol. II. Gutenberg Vol. III. Gutenberg Vol. IV. Gutenberg Vol. V. Gutenberg Vol. V. Gutenberg Vol. VII. Gutenberg Vol. VIII. Gutenberg Vol. IX. Gutenberg Vol. X. Please consult the Gutenberg edition for footnotes; the footnotes have not been included in this web version.

1001 Nights Hypertext. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. The texts presented here are in the public domain. Thanks to Gene Perry for his excellent help in preparing the texts for the web. Page last updated: January 1, 2005 10:46 PM

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