Thursday, April 06, 2017

Félix María de Samaniego: El labrador y la cigüeña / The farmer and the stork

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El labrador y la cigüeña

Un Labrador miraba
Con duelo su sembrado,
Porque gansos y grullas
De su trigo solían hacer pasto.
Armó sin más tardanza
Diestramente sus lazos,
Y cayeron en ellos
La Cigüeña, las grullas y los gansos.
«Señor rústico, dijo
La Cigüeña temblando,
Quíteme las prisiones,
Pues no merezco pena de culpados;
La diosa Ceres sabe
Que, lejos de hacer daño,
Limpio de sabandijas,
De culebras y víboras los campos.»
«Nada me satisface,
Respondió el hombre airado:
Te hallé con delincuentes,
Con ellos morirás entre mis manos.»
La inocente Cigüeña
Tuvo el fin desgraciado,
Que pueden prometerse
Los buenos que se juntan con los malos.

Fábulas I.XVI by Félix María de Samaniego (1745 – 1801)

The farmer and the stork

A farmer looked at the state of his grain with grief at his heart, because geese and cranes made merry with his wheat. So without further delay he skilfully laid his snares, and into them fell the stork, the cranes and the geese.

"Sir countryman," said the stork trembling, "Release me from these bonds, for I do not merit the pains of the guilty. The Goddess Ceres well knows that far from harming your fields I cleanse them of vermin, of snakes and of vipers."

"So nothing," answered the man angrily. "I found you with villains, and by my hand you shall die with them."

The innocent stork suffered the unfortunate end that the good must expect when they consort with the wicked.


The fable-form, in Samaniego and probably always, exemplifies the program "to delight and instruct". The two aspects aren't detached, but neither do they flow to the same end; they converse together in a complicated way.

The morals tend to teach tribal values: they promote fear, conformity, diligent labour, knowing your place, being forearmed. They deplore ambition, spontaneity, sensibility, emotion and innovation.

The prudential moral is in sync with the story, the moral is a wise moral, yet we have a freedom whether or not to take the moral.

We learn, if we care to, that this moral is an account of the world's imperfect justice. We see that the stork isn't doing anything bad in consorting with the other birds, and we see that those birds aren't really villains either. They are just pests in the same way that a flower may be called a weed, because it grows where we don't want it. So the fable can even be read as commending keeping company with those whom the world calls villains, and it informs us that this keeping company need not corrupt us; though it warns, too, of how the world may punish us for our temerity. Samaniego's fables are replete with a double irony which probes at both sides of a matter, like Fielding's.


This is a winter fable, the time when grain is sown. The fable is perfectly accurate so far as the feeding habits of the three birds are concerned.

Cranes are omnivorous and eat mostly plant food, including grain, with an increased percentage of animal food in summer when feeding their young. Some Common Cranes (Grus grus) winter in Spain.

Geese are herbivorous. They are principally specialist grass-feeders but they do enjoy eating grain sown in winter furrows. Some Greylag Geese (Anser anser) still winter in Spain, though in places like the Guadalquivir Marismas rather than on arid wheat-growing farmland.

Storks like the White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) are entirely carnivorous, feeding on insects, worms, amphibians, small reptiles and mammals etc. Plant food is only ingested by accident. Their presence on farmland is considered beneficial as they eat mice and rats. White Storks remain fairly common in Spain and in central Europe, though their range has declined (last seen in Belgium 1895, Sweden 1955) perhaps due to drainage of wetland. They like to nest in built environments and now find a lot of their food (and nest materials) in rubbish dumps.


White Stork / Cigüeña blanca o común / Ciconia ciconia

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