Reading Mindfully: Jean de La Fontaine’s “The Oak and the Reed”
October 7, 2016 | Capria Jaussen, Cecily Erin Hill
Image: Claude Monet, The Bodmer Oak, Fontainebleau, 1865, [Public Domain] via Wikiart.org
Each month, we pause for a moment to read mindfully, using literature to think about our perceptions and reactions to the world in which we live and work. Through these short texts and accompanying questions, we hope to give you a small taste of Books@Work. We hope you might share and discuss them with others – or send us your thoughts.Jean de La Fontaine published “The Oak and the Reed” in the first of his twelve books of fables. Published in 1688, the fable is adapted from Aesop’s Fables and is written in poetic meter and rhyme in French. La Fontaine’s adaptation is not unique: the tale has been retold in Greek, Latin, Italian and English and has even been interpreted in statue and song.
As you read “The Oak and the Reed,” consider these questions:
- When is it better to be strong and when is it better to be flexible?
- The oak and the reed may represent any number of things – people, ideas, social structures, even work hierarchies. What do the oak and the reed, and their philosophies, represent to you?
- This fable has been told for thousands of years. Why do you think this story is so inspiring, across cultures and generations?
The Oak and the Reed
by Jean de La Fontaine, translated by Eli Siegel
The oak one day says to the reed:
—You have a good right to blame the nature of things:
A wren for you is a heavy thing to bear.
The slightest wind which is likely
To wrinkle the face of the water
Compels you to bow your head—
While my brow, like Mount Caucasus,
Not satisfied with catching the rays of the sun,
Resists the effort of the tempest.
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