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“Le Corbeau et le Renard” – La Fontaine – French Poem Reading with Explanation & Analysis

Camille Chevalier-Karfis By Camille Chevalier-Karfis - updated on Oct 1, 2020
the crow and the fox

Today Im going to talk to you about the French poem “Le Corbeau et le Renard” – The Raven and The Fox by Jean de La Fontaine. I will speak slowly, clearly and use everyday vocabulary to read, explain, and then discuss the poem.

First, Im going to read the French poem Le Corbeau et le Renard slowly. Then Ill explain the vocabulary of the poem using everyday French, and then Ill tell you about the message of the poem, and the life of Jean de la Fontaine, and finally, I will read the poem faster, with a personal reading, just like I do with poems of very famous French poets (Baudelaire, Hugo etc) in my audiobook Easy French Poetry.

1 Le Corbeau et le Renard de Jean de La Fontaine Audio Recording

2 Famous French Poem Le Corbeau et Le Renard de Jean de la Fontaine

Ma簾tre Corbeau, sur un arbre perch矇,
Tenait en son bec un fromage.
Ma簾tre Renard, par lodeur all矇ch矇,
Lui tint peu pr癡s ce langage :
竄H矇 ! bonjour, Monsieur du Corbeau.
Que vous 礙tes joli ! que vous me semblez beau !
Sans mentir, si votre ramage
Se rapporte votre plumage,
Vous 礙tes le Ph矇nix des h繫tes de ces bois.罈
A ces mots le Corbeau ne se sent pas de joie ;
Et pour montrer sa belle voix,
Il ouvre un large bec, laisse tomber sa proie.
Le Renard sen saisit, et dit : 竄Mon bon Monsieur,
Apprenez que tout flatteur
Vit aux d矇pens de celui qui l矇coute :
Cette le癟on vaut bien un fromage, sans doute.罈
Le Corbeau, honteux et confus,
Jura, mais un peu tard, quon ne ly prendrait plus.

3 English Translation The Crow and the Fox by Jean de la Fontaine

Here is my own translation of the French poem. I went for a literal translation so you could understand the vocabulary.

So in English un corbeau is technically a raven. But this fable is known in English as the fox and the crow so Ill use that translation!

Master Crow perched on a tree,
Was holding a cheese in his beak.
Master Fox attracted by the smell
Said something like this:
Well, Hello Mister Crow!
How pretty you are! How beautiful you seem to me!
Im not lying, if your voice
Is like your plumage,
You are the phoenix of all the inhabitants of these woods.
At these words, the Crow is overjoyed.
And in order to show off his beautiful voice,
He opens his beak wide, lets his prey fall
The Fox grabs it, and says: My good man,
Learn that every flatterer
Lives at the expense of the one who listens to him.
This lesson, without doubt, is well worth a cheese.
The Crow, ashamed and embarrassed,
Swore, but a little late, that he would not be taken again.

4 Le Corbeau et Le Renard de Jean de la Fontaine Video

Bonus! Its my pleasure to share with you my daughter Leylas (8 years old on this video) rendition of le Corbeau et le Renard by Jean de la Fontaine. This poem is extremely famous, and you can be sure that every French kid has had memorized it for school and this for generations.

Maintenant, nous allons faire lexplication du texte. Je vais lire chaque vers du po癡me et je vais paraphraser, cest dire que je vais expliquer le vocabulaire.

5 Explanation of the Vocabulary of the French Poem The Crow and the Fox de Jean de la Fontaine

Je commence donc par le premier vers :
Ma簾tre Corbeau, sur un arbre perch矇
Ici, lauteur utilise le mot ma簾tre, le nom ma簾tre, ce nest pas le verbe mettre. Cest un nom comme Monsieur. Ici, cest Ma簾tre Corbeau, cela rend le corbeau humain. Alors, quest-ce que cest un corbeau? Un corbeau, cest un gros oiseau noir qui vit dans les campagnes. Vous connaissez cet oiseau. Cest un oiseau qui vit partout dans le monde. Sur un arbre perch矇 :
Loiseau est perch矇 dans larbre. Il est perch矇 sur une branche en haut de larbre.

Deuxi癡me vers:
Tenait en son bec un fromage.
Dans son bec : le bec, cest la bouche dun oiseau et il tient un fromage.
Je suis s羶re que vous connaissez le mot fromage

Troisi癡me vers:
Ma簾tre Renard, par lodeur all矇ch矇,
Jean de la Fontaine utilise  le m礙me nom ma簾tre  pour pr矇senter son renard, comme Monsieur Renard. Quest-ce que cest un renard ?  Un renard, cest un(h矇sitation) une esp癡ce de petit chien qui habite dans les campagnes. Le renard est roux et il a une grosse queue rouge et blanche  et des grandes oreilles.  Le renard est connu parce quil est tr癡s intelligent, il est rus矇,  et il vole les poules des paysans. Donc, ce renard, il est all矇ch矇 par lodeur, cest dire, que lodeur est app矇tissante et il est attir矇 par lodeur du fromage.

Quatri癡me vers:
Lui tint peu pr癡s ce langage :
Lui tint: tint cest le verbe tenir, tenir un langage : 癟a veut dire parler dune certaine fa癟on.  Et le lui cest pour le corbeau. Donc, le quatri癡me vers veut dire : lui parle peu pr癡s de cette fa癟on.

H矇 ! bonjour, Monsieur du Corbeau.

Le cinqui癡me vers est facile.
Je pense que vous comprenez. Notez, que Jean de la Fontaine introduit un du corbeau qui donne un c繫t矇 tr癡s noble au corbeau. Donc, le renard utilise une fa癟on tr癡s polie, tr癡s formelle de parler au corbeau.

Sixi癡me vers:
Que vous 礙tes joli ! que vous me semblez beau !
Le renard complimente le corbeau. Il dit: je trouve, que vous 礙tes tr癡s joli. Je trouve, que vous 礙tes tr癡s beau.

Learn French with the most famous French poems, such as Demain, d癡s laube, La Cigale et la Fourmi, Parfum Exotique with my Classic French Poetry audiobooks.

  1. French poem read twice,
  2. explanation of the text and the meaning,
  3. life of the authors life (Hugo, La Fontaine, Baudelaire)

in simple French with English translation.

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Vers num矇ro sept :
Sans mentir, si votre ramage
Donc, le renard dit, quil ne ment pas. Il dit la v矇rit矇, sans mentir. Le ramage, cest un chant, cest le chant dun oiseau. Donc si votre ramage色

Vers num矇ro huit :
se rapporte votre plumage
Donc, si votre chant est comme vos plumes,

Vers num矇ro neuf :
Vous 礙tes le Ph矇nix des h繫tes de ces bois.
Un ph矇nix est un animal imaginaire, un animal l矇gendaire. Cest un tr癡s bel oiseau, tr癡s color矇, et cest un peu comme un dieu. Donc, le renard dit: si votre chant est aussi beau que vos plumes, vous 礙tes le plus bel oiseau de ce bois.  Les h繫tes de ces bois : cest un habitant.  Et les bois, ce sont les for礙ts.  Donc, le renard complimente beaucoup le corbeau, il lui dit quil est beau, il lui dit quil chante fabuleusement bien, et que cest le plus bel habitant de la for礙t.

Vers num矇ro dix, on change de sc矇nario. Ce nest plus  le renard qui parle. Le narrateur nous parle du corbeau.
A ces mots le Corbeau ne se sent pas de joie
Quand il entend ces mots, quand il entend les paroles du renard, le corbeau est tr癡s tr癡s tr癡s heureux.

Vers num矇ro onze:
Et pour montrer sa belle voix,
Et pour montrer au renard son beau chant, pour que le renard 矇coute son chant

Vers num矇ro douze :
Il ouvre un large bec, laisse tomber sa proie.
Le Corbeau ouvre sa bouche tr癡s tr癡s grande et le fromage tombe.

Vers num矇ro treize :
Le Renard sen saisit, et dit : 竄Mon bon Monsieur,
Donc, le renard prend le fromage, il prend le fromage tr癡s vite et il parle au corbeau. Et il dit: Mon bon Monsieur. Cest un changement宅ous (h矇sitation) cest un changement de ton. Le renard, ici, utilise un ton sup矇rieur pour parler au corbeau. Cest tr癡s diff矇rent de la premi癡re partie du po癡me.

Donc, vers num矇ro quatorze:
Apprenez que tout flatteur
Le corb pardon, le renard commence par limp矇ratif : Apprenez Je vais vous apprendre. Je vous donne une le癟on.

Donc, Apprenez que tout flatteur Vers num矇ro quinze :
Vit aux d矇pens de celui qui l矇coute :
Ma le癟on est que tous les flatteurs vivent gr璽ce leurs interlocuteurs.  Quest-ce que cest un flatteur ? Un flatteur, cest une personne qui complimente une autre personne.  Mais ses compliments ne sont pas, ne sont pas vrais. Ils mentent une autre personne pour obtenir quelque chose. Donc, le renard explique au corbeau, il lui dit que les flatteurs vivent gr璽ce aux personnes qui les 矇coutent.

Vers num矇ro euh dix (h矇sitation) seize:
Cette le癟on vaut bien un fromage, sans doute.
a veut dire, un fromage, cest sans doute, cest certainement un bon prix  pour cette le癟on. Le renard dit: je viens de vous donner une tr癡s bonne le癟on et le renard pense que (h矇sitation) le守n fromage, ce nest pas un prix tr癡s cher pour cette le癟on.

Vers num矇ro dix-sept:
Le Corbeau, honteux et confus
Alors, honteux et confus, ce sont deux adjectifs qui d矇crivent des sentiments.
Honteux : 癟a vient de  la honte, et la honte, cest ce que lon ressent lorsquon regrette quelque chose.
Et confus : cest un mot assez ancien pour dire que (h矇sitation) on est d矇sol矇.  On se sent stupide. Donc, le corbeau  se sent stupide davoir 矇cout矇 et davoir cru le renard.

Vers num矇ro dix-huit :
Jura, mais un peu tard, quon ne ly prendrait plus
Jura cest le verbe jurer. a veut dire promettre, donc, le corbeau promet un peu trop tard, quon ne ly prendrait plus que les flatteurs ne le pi癡geraient plus. Que euh (h矇sitation) il n矇couterait plus  les flatteurs et quil ne serait plus dupe.

fox and crow

6 Analysis of the French Poem The Crow and the Fox de Jean de la Fontaine

Maintenant,  que vous comprenez les mots, nous allons parler du message du po癡me et de la signification de ce message dans le contexte historique. Qui sont le corbeau et le renard dans la soci矇t矇  du XVIIe si癡cle ?

Tout dabord, regardez comme Jean de la Fontaine personnifie ses animaux en leur donnant des qualificatifs humains : ma簾tre, monsieur du Corbeau mon bon monsieur.

Alors, quand on pense un corbeau, on pense quoi ? Un corbeau, cest un gros oiseau noir des campagnes. Cest un oiseau maudit. Cest lami des sorci癡res. Euh (h矇sitation) cest un symbole de mort. Le corbeau ne chante pas, il croasse cest dire que (h矇sitation) il fait croa, croa, croa. Ce nest pas du tout un oiseau raffin矇. Il nest pas 矇l矇gant. Et pourtant, le renard lui parle comme sil 矇tait un seigneur. Il utilise les mots joli, beau, ramage. Euh (h矇sitation), il euh (h矇sitation), en fait, il le rend m礙me noble, en disant Monsieur du Corbeau. Enfin, il  le compare au ph矇nix ; cette comparaison est amusante car le ph矇nix est un oiseau l矇gendaire, euh (h矇sitation), tr癡s color矇, contrairement, au (h矇sitation) au corbeau qui est compl癡tement noir, et cest un symbole de vie cest exactement le contraire du corbeau ! On est compl癡tement dans la situation du th矇璽tre burlesque.

Le renard est aussi un animal bien connu des Fran癟ais. Principalement des paysans, car comme je lai d矇j dit, le renard vole les poules des paysans. On dit en fran癟ais: il est rus矇 comme un renard. Le renard utilise des ruses, utilise son intelligence pour tromper, pour pi矇ger les gens. Et le corbeau est compl癡tement dupe. Il croit compl癡tement le renard. Le renard est un menteur, cest un flatteur, et la morale de la fable r矇sume parfaitement qui il est ; Apprenez que tout flatteur vit aux d矇pens de celui qui l矇coute.

Dans cette fable la Fontaine critique deux grands acteurs de la sc癡ne fran癟aise du 17eme si癡cle. Le courtisan, qui flatte et dit tout ce que les personnes de pouvoir veulent entendre. Et les personnes hautes plac矇es comme le corbeau bien haut perch矇 sur sa branche qui les 矇coutent, et finalement, qui les font vivre.

7 French Poet Jean de la Fontaines Life

Alors, maintenant, on va parler de lauteur. Jean de La Fontaine est n矇 Ch璽teau Thierry le 8 juillet 1621. Son p癡re 矇tait noble, mais pas sa m癡re. Il a 矇tudi矇 l矇cole de Ch璽teau Thierry jusquen troisi癡me, et il a 矇tudi矇 le latin mais pas le grec. Et il va le regretter lorsque quil sinspirera de textes anciens.

En 1641, il entre loratoire, une 矇cole religieuse de Paris. Mais la vie monacale ne lint矇resse pas plus que le travail scolaire. Et il quitte cette 矇cole un an et demi plus tard.

En 1647, son p癡re le marie Marie H矇ricart qui a 14 ans alors que Jean en a 28. Ce nest pas un mariage heureux et m礙me si Jean a un fils, qui sappelle Charles, il ne sera  jamais ni un bon mari ni un bon p癡re.

En 1649, il  矇tudie le droit et devient avocat. Et en 1652, il reprend la charge, le travail, de son p癡re et devient ma簾tre des eaux et for礙ts.

Quand il peut, il monte Paris et rencontre ses amis libertins. Il sint矇resse de plus en plus la po矇sie. Il lit Malherbe, mais aussi Rablais et Bocasse. Il traduit aussi des textes anciens dont il sinspira pour ses fables.

Vers 1670, il commence 矇crire des po癡mes pour Fouquet qui est un homme tr癡s puissant. Le surintendant des finances du roi Louis XIV  le Roi Soleil. Jean devient tr癡s ami avec Moli癡re, Boileau et Racine qui sont des auteurs fran癟ais tr癡s connus. Et il compose 矇norm矇ment de contes et de fables.  En tout, Jean de la Fontaine a 矇crit 243 fables. En 1684 il est 矇lu lacad矇mie fran癟aise et il meurt en 1695.

Voil, le corbeau et le renard est un po癡me tr癡s connu des Fran癟ais. Tous les enfants ont appris ce po癡me l矇cole. En fait, cest un po癡me assez simple, assez court et cest toujours un des premiers po癡mes que les enfants apprennent.

Je vais maintenant relire le po癡me un peu plus rapidement, et on terminera sur cette note.

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8 English Translation of the French Transcript

The Crow and the Fox by Jean de la Fontaine Vocabulary Explanation

So, I will begin with the first verse.
Ma簾tre Corbeau, sur un arbre perch矇
Master Crow perched on a tree

Here, the author uses the word Ma簾tre (Master), the noun master, its not the verb mettre (to put). Its a name like monsieur. Here, its Master Crow, it makes the crow human. So, what is a crow? A crow is a big black bird that lives in the countryside. You know this bird. Its a bird that lives everywhere in the world. Perched on a tree: the bird is perched in the tree. It is perched on a branch high up in the tree.

Second verse:
Tenait en son bec un fromage.

was holding a cheese in his beak.
In his beak: the beak, thats the mouth of a bird where he holds the cheese. I am sure you know the word fromage

Third verse:
Ma簾tre Renard, par lodeur all矇ch矇,
Master Fox attracted by the smell

Jean de la Fontaine uses the same noun, Master, to introduce his fox. Like Monsieur Fox. Whats a fox? A fox is a (I hesitate) a kind of small dog that lives in the countryside. The fox is red and has a big white and red tail and big ears.  The fox is known for its intelligence, it is sly, and it steals chickens from the farmers. So, this fox, it is attracted by the smell, in other words, the smell is mouth-watering and he is attracted by the smell of the cheese.

Fourth verse:
Lui tint peu pr癡s ce langage :
said something like this:
Lui tint:  tint its the verb tenir, tenir un langage : this means speak in a certain way. And the lui (him) its for the crow. So, the 4th verse means: speaks to him more or less in this manner.

H矇 ! bonjour, Monsieur du Corbeau.
Well, hello Mister Crow.

The Fifth verse is easy. I think you understand. Note that Jean de la Fontaine introduces a  du Corbeau (i.e. adds and article used only for Noble family names) which gives a very noble twist to the crow. So, the fox uses a form very polite, very formal to speak to the crow.

Sixth verse:
Que vous 礙tes joli ! que vous me semblez beau !
How pretty you are! How beautiful you seem to me!

The fox is complimenting the crow. He says: I think that you are very pretty. I think that you are very beautiful.

Verse number seven:
Sans mentir, si votre ramage
Im not lying, if your voice

So, the fox says, he isnt lying. He speaks the truth, without lying. Le ramage: is a song, the song of a bird. So, if your voice

Verse number eight:
Se rapporte votre plumage,
is like your plumage

So, if your voice is like your feathers.

Verse number nine:
Vous 礙tes le Ph矇nix des h繫tes de ces bois.
You are the phoenix of all the inhabitants of these woods.

A phoenix is an imaginary bird, a legendary animal. Its a very beautiful bird, very colorful and its a bit like a God. So, the fox says: if your song is as beautiful as your feathers, you are the most beautiful bird in this forest.
Les h繫tes de ces bois (The lodgers of these woods): thats an inhabitant.  And the woods are the forests. So, the fox highly compliments the crow. He tells him that he is handsome, he tells him that he sings fabulously well, and that he is the most beautiful inhabitant of the forest.

Verse number 10 shows a big change of scene. Its no longer the Fox who speaks. The narrator tells us about the crow.
ces mots le Corbeau ne se sent pas de joie ;
At these words, the Crow is overjoyed;

When he hears the words of the fox, the crow is very very very happy.

Verse number eleven:
Et pour montrer sa belle voix,
And in order to show off his beautiful voice,

To show the fox his beautiful voice, for the fox to listen to his song

Verse number twelve:
Il ouvre un large bec, laisse tomber sa proie.
He opens his beak wide, lets his prey fall.

The crow opens his mouth very very wide and the cheese drops.

Verse number thirteen:
Le Renard sen saisit, et dit : Mon bon Monsieur,
The Fox grabs it, and says: My good man,

So, the fox takes the cheese, he takes the cheese very quickly and speaks to the crow. And he says: My good man. Its a change of tone you (I hesitate) its a change of tone. The fox, here, uses a superior tone of voice to speak to the crow. Its very different from the first part of the poem.

So, verse number fourteen:
Apprenez que tout flatteur
Learn that all flatterers

The cr excuse me, the fox begins with the imperative: Learn I am going to teach you. I am teaching you a lesson.

So, Learn that all flatterers verse number fifteen:
Vit aux d矇pens de celui qui l矇coute :
Lives at the expense of the one who listens to him.

My teaching is that all the flatterers live thanks to those who listen to them. Whats that a flatterer? Thats a person who compliments another person. But these compliments arent(I hesitate), arent true. They lie to another person in order to get something. So, the fox explains to the crow, he tells him that flatterers live thanks for the people who listen to them.

Verse number (I hesitate) well Ten Sixteen:
Cette le癟on vaut bien un fromage, sans doute.
This lesson without a doubt is well worth the cheese.

This means, a cheese, thats, without a doubt, surely a good price to pay for this lesson. The fox says: I just gave you a valuable lesson and the fox thinks that (I hesitate) the a cheese, thats not too high a price to pay for this lesson.

Verse number seventeen:
Le Corbeau, honteux et confus,
The Crow, ashamed and embarrassed,

So, ashamed and confused, these are adjectives that describe sentiments. Ashamed: that comes from shame, and shame, thats what we feel when we regret something.
And confused: thats a fairly old word to say that(I hesitate) one feels sorry. One feels stupid. So, the crow feels stupid for having listened and for having believed the fox.

Verse number eighteen:
Jura, mais un peu tard, quon ne ly prendrait plus
Swore, but a little late, that he would not be taken again.

Jura (swore) thats the verb jurer (to swear). It means, to promise, so the crow promises a bit too late, that he wont be taken in any more that the flatterers wont fool him anymore. That, (I hesitate) well he will not listen to the flatterers anymore and he wont be deceived anymore.

Analysis of the French Poem The Crow and the Fox de Jean de la Fontaine

Now, that you understand the words, lets speak about the message of the poem and the significance of this message within the historical context.
Who do the crow and the fox represent in 17th century society?

First of all, look at the way Jean de La Fontaine personifies his animals by giving them human qualifications master, master Crow, my good man.

So, when you think about a crow, you think about what? A crow is a big black bird of the countryside.  Its a damned bird. It is the friend of witches. Well (I hesitate) Its a symbol of death. The crow doesnt sing, it caws this means that (I hesitate) he goes caw, caw, caw. Its not at all a refined bird. Its not elegant. But yet, the fox speaks to him as if he were a prince. He uses the words pretty, beautiful, twittering. He (I hesitate) In fact, he makes him even noble, when he says Monsieur du Corbeau.  Finally, he compares him to a phoenix; this comparison is amusing as the phoenix is a legendary bird, well (I hesitate) very colorful, in opposition to the (I hesitate) to the crow who is entirely black, and its (the phoenix is) a symbol of life this is exactly the opposite of the crow! We are immersed in a situation of the burlesque theater.

The fox is also an animal very well known to the French. Primarily to the farmers, because as I already said, the fox steals the farmers chickens. One says in French: he is sly as a fox. The fox uses tricks, uses his intelligence to trick, to deceive people. And the crow is completely fooled.  He absolutely believes the fox. The fox is a liar, a flatterer, and the morale of the fable sums up perfectly what he is : Learn that all flatterers live at the expense of the one who listens to him.

In this fable, La Fontaine criticizes two famous actors of the French 17th century stage. The courtier, who flatters and says everything that the people in power want to hear. And the persons in high places like the crow perched high up on his branch that listen to them, and at the end, who support them.

French Poet Jean de la Fontaines Life

So, now, lets speak about the author. Jean de la Fontaine is born at Chateau Thierry on July 8th, 1621. His father was noble, but not his mother. He studies at the school of Chateau Thierry until the 3rd grade. He studies Latin but not Greek. And he will regret it as he takes his inspiration in antic texts.

In 1641, he enters the oratory, a religious school in Paris. But the life of a monk doesnt interest him anymore than the scholastic work does. He leaves this school one and a half years later.

In 1647, his father marries him to Marie H矇ricart, who is 14 years old, when Jean is 28. It isnt a happy marriage, and even when Jean has a son, called Charles, he is never a good husband nor a good father.

In 1649, he studies law and becomes a lawyer. And in 1652, he takes over from his father and becomes master of the waters and forests. When he can, he goes to Paris and meets up with his libertine friends. He is more and more interested in poetry. He reads Malherbe, but also Rablais and Bocasse. He translates also ancient texts that inspire him for his fables. Toward 1670, he begins to writes poems for Fouquet who is a very powerful gentleman. The minister of finance under King Louis XIV the Sun King.  Jean becomes friends with Moli癡re, Boileau and Racine who are very famous French authors.  He writes many tales and fables. In total, Jean de la Fontaine wrote 243 fables. In 1684 he was admitted into the Acad矇mie Fran癟aise and he died in 1695.

Thats it, the crow and the fox is a very famous poem in France. All the children learn this poem at school. In fact, its a fairly simple poem, fairly short and its always one of the first poems that children learn.

I will now read the poem again a bit faster, and well end on that.

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