The Fox & the Crow
An illustration of the Indian fable as told in the Arabic Kalila and Dimna
In the fable a crow has found a piece of cheese and retired to a branch to eat it. A fox, wanting the cheese for himself, flatters the crow, calling it beautiful and wondering whether its voice is as sweet to match. When the crow lets out a caw, the cheese falls and is devoured by the fox.
“Flatterers thrive on fools’ credulity.
The lesson’s worth a cheese, don’t you agree?”
The crow, shamefaced and flustered swore,
Too late, however: “Nevermore!”
A very early Indian version exists in the Buddhist scriptures as the Jambhu-Khadaka-Jataka. In this a jackal flatters the crow’s voice as it is feeding in a rose-apple tree. The crow replies that it requires nobility to discover the same in others and shakes down some fruit for the jackal to eat as a reward.
Since the fable stands at the beginning of La Fontaine’s fables, generations of French children commonly learned it by heart. This will explain the many settings by French composers. They include
- Jacques Offenbach in Six Fables de La Fontaine (1842) for soprano and small orchestra
- Charles Lecocq in Six Fables de Jean de la Fontaine for voice and piano
- Benjamin Godard in Six Fables de La Fontaine for voice and piano, op.17 (c.1871)
- André Caplet in Trois Fables de Jean de la Fontaine (1919) for voice and piano
- Maurice Delage in Deux fables de Jean de la Fontaine (1931)
There was also a setting of the French words by the Dutch composer Rudolf Koumans (b. 1929) in Vijf fabels van La Fontaine (op. 25, 1964) for school chorus and orchestra. A purely musical version was composed by Canadian musician Richard Poirier in 2010.
Among musical video interpretations is the one by Sesame Street, designed by Etienne Delessert and presented in musical fashion by a folk singer. The song group mewithoutYou recorded a slightly updated version of the story in “The Fox, The Crow, and The Cookie”. Its main point is to use the framework of the fable to weave a verbally inventive text but in the video made to accompany it the underlying story becomes clearer. A fox tries to snatch a cookie from the vendor’s barrow. While the latter is distracted with chasing off the fox, the crow swoops down and steals two. The fox then asks the crow for a share and, when this does not work, resorts to flattery: Your lovely song would grace my ears…Your poems of wisdom, my good crow, what a paradise they bring! The fox gets his cookie, of course.