(Adapted from Aesop’s Fables)
One day a young grasshopper was lazily sunning himself under the bright spring sun, trying out his newly discovered musical talents. A column of ants chanced to pass nearby, each labouring under an enormous seed many times its own weight.
“Look at you!” said a little ant, pausing for a moment. “Lazy good-for-nothing! Is that all you intend to do all spring long? Sun yourself and play that infernal racket?”
“Yes,” said the grasshopper. “And all summer, too.”
“And what will you do when the winter comes?” mocked the little ant.
“I’ll worry about that when the time comes,” sang the grasshopper. He stretched a toe to bring his leg into tune and played a merry marching piece that might have been enjoyed by the passing ants if they had not been passing so urgently by.
The following day the column of ants again passed the grasshopper and the same conversation with the little ant took place, as it did throughout the entire spring and well into summer.
One day in late September the middle-aged grasshopper was playing one of his more accomplished pieces which involved both legs, both wing cases and the bringing together of both antenna for dramatic effect, when the column of ants trudged wearily past. They were dragging with some effort the last seeds of summer. Some were so worn out by the toils of the spring and summer that they could barely carry themselves let alone the heavy burdens that weighed them down. Others were noticeable by their absence.
The little ant dropped his burden and glowered up at the grasshopper. “Still tossing it off, I see,” he croaked.
“That’s a vicious rumour,” laughed the grasshopper. “I haven’t done that for months, not since I was a young lad. But I am still enjoying my life to the full, if that’s what you mean.”
“Wait till winter,” cautioned the little ant, and the other ants who had been listening chorused, “Yes, wait till winter comes.”
“Got no choice but to wait for it,” said the grasshopper. “But remember, it comes to all of us in the end.”
As sagaciously predicted by the grasshopper winter duly arrived. The first snows of winter came, then the second and third. Soon the snow was falling steadily and pretty soon most of the grass and all of the few remaining seeds were hidden beneath a crisp carpet of snow.
“Where are you going little ant?” enquired the elderly grasshopper. He was sitting on one of the few blades of grass which yet brought a touch of colour to the otherwise featureless landscape. He no longer felt the hunger of his youth and he was too old even to so much as nibble the leaf. Instead he was watching the sun begin to set for the last time with a deep sense of contentment.
The little ant seemed hardly to notice he was there. It staggered robotically, its legs chilled almost to a standstill by a lifetime of toil and the encroaching cold.
“And where are all your little friends?” said the grasshopper.
The little ant looked up at him and his antenna twitched convulsively. “Dead!” he whispered. “Dead and replaced by the New Ones. And to think we worked so hard all spring and all summer, and for what? So that a new generation could come and take our places and throw us into the dust!”
“And your wonderful queen?” enquired the grasshopper. “Where is your wonderful queen?”
“Oh, she’s just dandy,” said the little ant bitterly. “Snug as a bug in her palace, she is. And she’s still being waited on hand and foot by poor fools like me. Living the life of Riley, she is. And the bitch never once had the decency to mention that us workers only live a year if we’re lucky and the drudgery don’t kill us off first. Seems to me it’s ‘plenty more where you came from’, as far as she’s concerned.”
“That’s bosses for you,” said the grasshopper. “Poor little misguided ant.”
“And what of you?” asked the little ant, sensing that the grasshopper might truly be feeling pity for him.
“I’m dying too,” said the grasshopper. “But I’ve no regrets. I’ve enjoyed a wonderful life. And I know that next spring my children will come into the world and they too will understand the importance of living for the moment and of enjoying life to the full.”
“Mind if I rest here a while?” gasped the little ant. “I don’t think I can go on another step, and I’d sure like to hear at least one tune before it’s too late.”
The grasshopper smiled down sadly at the little ant. Then, gathering the last of his strength, he brought to bear all he had learnt in a lifetime of practice and began to play.
The little ant thought it was the most glorious thing that he had ever heard, and even the sun seemed to pause to listen a while before it bled itself into the snowy horizon. The final darkness followed and descended like a comfortable blanket over the aged grasshopper and the exhausted little ant.
Non est, crede mihi, sapientis dicere ‘Vivam’: Sera nimis vita est crastina: vive hodie.
“Believe me, wise men don’t say ‘I shall live to do that’: Tomorrow’s life’s too late; live today.”
Martial 40-104 ac