A man that labour’d in the wood
Had lost his honest livelihood;
That is to say,
His axe was gone astray.
He had no tools to spare;
This wholly earn’d his fare.
Without a hope beside,
He sat him down and cried,
“Alas, my axe! where can it be?
O Jove! but send it back to me,
And it shall strike good blows for thee.”
His prayer in high Olympus heard,
Swift Mercury started at the word.
“Your axe must not be lost,” said he:
“Now, will you know it when you see?
An axe I found upon the road.”
With that an axe of gold he show’d.
“Is’t this?” The woodman answer’d, “Nay.”
An axe of silver, bright and gay,
Refused the honest woodman too.
At last the finder brought to view
An axe of iron, steel, and wood.
“That’s mine,” he said, in joyful mood;
“With that I’ll quite contented be.”
The god replied, “I give the three,
As due reward of honesty.”
This luck when neighbouring choppers knew,
They lost their axes, not a few,
And sent their prayers to Jupiter
So fast, he knew not which to hear.
His winged son, however, sent
With gold and silver axes, went.
Each would have thought himself a fool
Not to have own’d the richest tool.
But Mercury promptly gave, instead
Of it, a blow upon the head.
With simple truth to be contented,
Is surest not to be repented;
But still there are who would
With evil trap the good,—
Whose cunning is but stupid,
For Jove is never dupéd.