adapted from Babrius, first century A.D., and Jean de La Fontaine, 1621-1695

__At least twelve thousand years (though likely more)
Between the wolves and sheep had raged a war,
Until the lupine clan convinced the ewes and rams
They’d cease their onslaughts on the helpless lambs.
The only stipulation to the peace,
The wolves averred to those who wore the fleece,
For harmony to reign throughout the land,
Was that the woolly ones their dogs disband.
The wolves declared, “Your dogs’ aggressive stance
Is root cause of our bitter variance.
Give us your guards that we may punish them
And this incessant surge of warfare stem.”

__The foolish sheep, who bleat on all occasions,
Surrendered to these ravening persuasions.
Yet, just before the terms were finalized,
An ancient aries, wise in years advised,
“How can we live secure in this wide mead,
When time, both past and present, has decreed”
(His woolly back now bristling in alarm)
“That wolves to us are bent on bringing harm?
Though presently the dogs serve as our shield,
Still we our lives to wolf predations yield.
Wolves sometimes slay a ewe or kill a ram
And often seize and carry off a lamb,
Where in the nearby forest, dimly-lit,
By savage, yellowed fangs its throat is slit.
If such acts wolves do when our dogs are here,
What deeds must happen when they disappear?
Eternal watch our shepherds cannot keep
And thus retain the dogs to guard us sheep.”

__Yet to the ram’s appeal, the herd refused to heed
And to the thuggish wolves their dogs did cede.
The wolves then took the watchdogs of the sheep
And that night slew them when they fell asleep.
The wolves grown bold, without the guardians’ check,
The plot unknots as reason would expect
And needs no stated moral for its close,
For all can guess the way the ending goes.



Terry L. Norton is professor emeritus of literacy acquisition at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He is the author of Cherokee Myths and Legends, Thirty Tales Retold, and is the 2020 second place winner of the 2020 Poetry Translation Competition sponsored by The Society. In addition to The Society, his poems have appeared in Ekphrastic Review and Kakalak Review.

NOTE TO READERS: If you enjoyed this poem or other content, please consider making a donation to the Society of Classical Poets.

The Society of Classical Poets does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or commentary.

CODEC Stories:

32 Responses

  1. Joe Tessitore

    The analogy is spot-on.
    The poem reads like (what used to be) an honest and informative newspaper article.

    Chilling and well-done.

    • Terry L. Norton

      Thank for your perceptive comment on metrics. Occasionally with iambic pentameter couplets, I use a six foot line, or alexandrine. Dryden, Pope, Goldsmith, Keats, and others allowed it as well, and in THE FAIRY QUEEN, Spenser’s contribution to stanzaic form, has eight lines of iambic pentameter and closes with an alexandrine. In his “Dedication of the Aeneis,” Dryden noted that, when the hexameter line is “used with judgment,” it “adds a certain majesty to the verse and stops the sense from overflowing into another line” (54). This technique avoids excessive “enjambement,” especially where a verb might be separated from its subject or its object. However, unlike Dryden, I claim neither majesty or judgment for my writing. I also like open-ended lines, but not when the poem aims for precision of expression. I’m glad you enjoyed the poem.

      • Dr. Terry norton

        Woops! I hit an incorrect key. This reply was intended for Mr. Woodruff below.

        I am also glad you enjoyed the poem. Thank you.

  2. Julian D. Woodruff

    Terrific! Goose bumps here, in anticipation of (more) goons’ bumps.
    In the line “Yet to the ram’s appeal …,” the extra foot may be intended for emphasis. If not, there are at least 3 easy ways of dropping back to 5.

    • Terry L. Norton

      Please see my response above under Mr. Tessitore’s name. I hit an incorrect key in my intention to respond to you concerning metrics with the extra foot.

      Again, thank you for your comment.

  3. Mike Bryant

    This is truly a fable for our times and beautifully written. The sheeple have decided to defund the shepherds. God help us. I recently read an article that said we must create millions of small groups of patriots, worldwide, to keep the wolves away. I believe the process has already begun.

  4. Peter Hartley

    Yes I think we can all guess. Horripilation-inducing and very cleverly written. We don’t have wolves in the U.K. but there have been several attempts to re-introduce them (WHY???). There’s probably a very good reason why they died out in the first place.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Peter, I believe the last native wolf in England was killed in the late fifteenth century (the species may have survived a bit longer in the remoter sections of Wales and Scotland).

      Wolves were always an annoyance, as predators on domestic cattle, pigs, and sheep. When English wool production took off in the 1400s, the imperative to kill off wolves became intense, and led to their final and deserved extirpation.

      What kind of environmentalist lunatics want to bring wolves BACK? Do they also want to reintroduce snakes to Ireland, or the anopheles mosquito to Africa? It’s time for us to recognize that a very large percentage of the environmentalist movement is driven by sheer irrationality.

      • Peter Hartley

        Joe S – But even without deliberate human intervention (eg to protect livestock from wolves) many or most of these animals have or would have become extinct through natural causes anyway because they were ill-adapted for survival. Look at the dodo, a great archaic pigeon shuffling along a Mauritian beach, or the great auk which had grown infinitely bigger than the (presumably optimum) size of all its relatives. The extinction of many of these animals is a part of evolution as WE are a part of evolution and the survival of the dodo, while it would be a very picturesque tourist draw, would be more the result of interference on our part, not conservation. The sea eagle, the biggest eagle in the world, has been re-introduced to Scotland. Again, WHY? It is no longer native. We already have the second biggest eagle in the world (the golden), which by all accounts is flourishing. More interference with nature and the natural order is what has brought it back. When creatures become extinct there is more likely to be a cause independent of mankind and a very good one too. But I’m sure that contrary to the splendid work of St Patrick there will be plenty of those crazed environmentalists who would like to see the return of snakes to Ireland. Let’s not just have vipers though. Why stop there?How about a few boa constrictors and pythons to strangle our livestock as well? (After all the beaver has been re-introduced to Scotland with what justification God only knows). There are plenty of sheep in the U.K., far too many for environmentalists to need to worry about.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Peter, we have no argument. Ninety percent of all animal species that ever lived are now extinct. Palaeontology has shown that there have been several mass extinctions over the eons.

        At its deepest motivational level, extreme environmentalism is profoundly anti-human. It would gladly sacrifice millions of human beings to preserve some goddamned snail-darter. It would love to put thousands of people out of work to prevent coal and oil production. It is fanatically fixated on setting up a tyranny to prevent us from eating the foods we wish to eat.

    • Terry L. Norton

      I have nothing against four-legged wolves in remote areas and fear only those with two legs, and I certainly appreciate guard dogs whether with two or four.

      Thanks for your comment. In North Carolina, the reintroduction of red wolves has not met with great success. The coyotes have become something of an infestation in both rural and some urban areas. When at my mother’s farm, I often hear their howls at night.

  5. Leo Zoutewelle

    Terry, I thought your poem was great and so pertinent to today! Excellent.
    Thank you for posting!

    • Terry L. Norton

      Thank you for your comment. When I came across the two variants of this fable, the implications certainly struck a cord with me.

  6. C.B. Anderson

    Yes, defunding the police is is a wonderful idea — let the wolves run the world.

    Incidentally, my favorite brand of Irish whiskey these days is called Wolfhound.

    • Terry L. Norton

      I haven’t tried Wolfhound whiskey. Perhaps it would help me cope with a world without the police.

      • C.B. Anderson

        Well, yes, Terry, It does help, but it works best if the police are likewise supplied with a case or two.

  7. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    This is a wonderful poetic adaptation that taps into the times and sends a shiver of recognition. The closing three lines are my favorite. “The plot unknots as reason would expect/And needs no stated moral for its close,/For all can guess the way the ending goes.” says it all and leads me to question why many today are oblivious to the same moral outcome. I’m hoping this wily wolf wake-up call might well open a few eyes. Very well done, indeed!

    • Terry L. Norton

      Yes, I also lack sufficient understanding for the stance that many take today. Thank you, Susan, for your comments.

  8. Margaret Coats

    Terry, a fabulous tale well told! I second Susan’s appreciation for the final lines, of which my favorite phrase is “the plot unknots.” I notice that Evan has marked this post for children, and the lively rhythm would certainly appeal to them. Come to think of it, perceptive children are able to make the very applications so obscure to many adults, especially when the children have access to good reading material.

    • Terry L. Norton

      Interesting that you should mention the post being marked for children. The story comes from a time, whether as part of the oral tradition or in the variants of Babrius and La Fontaine, when literature for children and adults had not diverged as it did later in western society beginning with treatises on education by Locke in SOME THOUGHTS CONCERNING EDUCATION and Rousseau in EMILE. Both recommended the fables attributed to Aesop as children’s reading material. Of course, I have always held that good children’s literature has a crossover appeal for adults.

      Today, with the advent of mass media like television and now computers and smart phones, the lines between what’s suitable for children and adults has once again blurred. Secrets deemed suitable for adults are more easily hidden in books than in media accessible to all. No one will ever be a remedial TV viewer or smart phone user except someone like me for the later.

      Thanks for your kind response.


Leave a Reply to Terry L. Norton Cancel Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Captcha loading...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.