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Fable: Cicada and Ant, by Jean de la Fontaine


Jean de la Fontaine
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This article is in English. Click here to read it in French.

When you are a child in France, you learn at school “Les Fables de La Fontaine” written in 1668 by poet Jean de La Fontaine.

His work was highly appreciated by the Court of Louis XIV. It now occupies a prominent place in the French cultural heritage and some precepts of the fables are even part of conventional wisdom.

You may not know that the French tend to save money a lot and don’t like to live on credit…


Probably because they learnt the fable called “La cigale et la fourmi” by Monsieur de La Fontaine.

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Fable by Jean de La Fontaine translated into English by Christopher CARSTE

“Cicada and Ant” by Jean de la Fontaine

Having sung the summer through,
Cicada found herself quite destitute.
And when the North Wind blew,
Provisions being less than scant,
She crawled on down to neighbor ant
With cries of famine,
Hoping to borrow just a bit of seed
To tide her over till the coming Spring.
“I’ll pay of course,” she tried to plead,
“Before the month of August,
Both interest and principal.
Come, trust a fellow animal!”
The ant however is no lender;
Lending is the least of all her flaws.
“Could you tell me what you did
On all those hot dry days?”
She asked the borrower.
“Night and day, my pardon to you ants,
I sang, for one and all.”
“You sang? I am enthralled!
Now all you have to do is dance.”

Join the conversation


  1. Armance Beauchamp
    11 years ago

    Bravo, une traduction de La Fontaine il fallait oser 🙂
    Si l’on est Cigale ou Fourmi on se le demande entre français, mais maintenant on pourra, hors de France, demander : “Cicada or Ant ?”. Merci Emmanuelle!

  2. Emmanuelle Tremolet
    11 years ago

    Merci Armance. Je tiens toutefois à préciser que la traduction n’est pas de moi mais de Christopher CARSTE.
    J’ai juste écrit les dix premières lignes en anglais, j’y vais doucement! 😉

    Je pense que les français sont plutôt fourmis…
    Et vous, lecteurs de cet article, dans votre pays est-on plutôt cigale ou fourmi ?

  3. Suzanne Cavanagh
    11 years ago

    Interesting question Emmanuelle and Armance. 2012 for most will be a conservative year, so ‘plutôt fourni’ certainly in Europe but also in Australia. Interestingly in Anglophone countries you will tend to hear people talk about ‘squirreling away for the future’. This raises another fascinating question as to why different countries have the same idioms/metaphors but use different animals to communicate their ideas….

  4. Shannon Guy
    11 years ago

    Great article, Emmanuelle. I visited the Jean De La Fontaine Museum in Chateau-Thierry earlier this year. Chateau-Thierry is his birthplace and his presence can be felt in the street names and in the statue in the middle of the town. I must confess that I was a little ignorant to his eminence before moving to France. Now I’m going to start reading his fables in French. This article was very timely for me!

  5. Carolyne Kauser-Abbott
    11 years ago

    Emmanulle thanks for sharing that fable. Growing up in Canada I was familiar with the story. How true it is of life – although we do need a few singers around to keep it interesting.

  6. Julie Chamand
    11 years ago

    Recently I had the surprise to find out that not everyone considers the ant to be selfish, while I had always thought it was the point of the story!
    Funny fact: La Cigale concert hall in Paris 18ème is right next to a very busy café called La Fourmi. I recommend both for a visit!