The Dancing Bear

a fable from the German of
CHRISTIAN FÜRCHTEGOTT GELLERT (1715-1769)

A bear, who long had danced for bread,
One morning from his keeper fled;
Back to his native woods retreated,
And, by his brother brutes, was kindly greeted:
Dancing Bears
Their joy to see him made the forest roar,
They lick’d his chaps, they stroak’d him with the paw;
And when each bear his neighbour saw,
Their news was, So!—Our Bruin’s here once more.

Straightway the travell’d youth went on
All his adventures to relate,
And whatsoever he had seen, or done,
Or heard, in foreign parts to state.

And when it came the turn to tell
His dancing deeds, to capering he fell,
As though his former master’s chain
Were fasten’d round his neck again.

Bears of the woods are seldom trained to dance;
Yet, seeing Bruin throw his limbs about,
The fancy seiz’d them all, themselves to prance,
And strive, with clumsy aim, his motions to make out.

Scarce one of all the brood but quickly trip’d,
And stumbling, staggering, fell his whole length down;
The more they fail’d, the brisker Bruin skip’d,
To show their skill at fault and prove his own.

But now, their fury kindles at his play;
Away! Begone, you tumbling fool! they bawl;
Must you, forsooth, be wiser than us all?
And straight, with one accord, they hooted him away.

Your neighbour’s hatred would you shun?
His talents to surpass beware!
And still the higher your attainments run,
Conceal them still with greater care.

For though, at first, the voice of fame
Shall sound your praises to the sky:
Anon shall Envy blast your name,
And turn your fairest arts to crimes of deepest dye.

Christian Fürchtegott Gellert Contemporaries
Alexander Pope
Thomas Gray
Jonathan Swift

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