上帝创造了这个世界，准备给万物的生命，这时驴子走了过来问道："主啊，我将活多少年？""三十年，"上帝回答道，"你满意吗？""啊！主呀，"驴子答道，"那够长了。想想我活得多苦呀！每天从早到晚背着沉重的负担，把一袋的谷子拖进作坊，而其他人可以吃面包，他们只知用打我、踢我来的方式鼓舞我、振作我。请把我从这漫长的痛苦岁月中解放出来吧。"上帝很同情它，就减了它十八年的寿命。 驴子心中宽慰地走了。 接着狗又来了。 "你想活多久？"上帝问，"三十年对驴来说太长了，但你会满意吧！""主呀，"狗回答说，"这是你的意志吗？想想我将怎样狂奔，我的脚决不可能坚持那么久，当我一旦不能叫了，除了从一个角落跑到另一个角落，我还能干什么呢？"上帝见它说得对，减了它十二年寿命。 接着猴子来了。 "你一定愿意活三十年吧？"上帝对它说，"你不必像驴和狗那样干活，却可以享受生活。""啊！主呀，"它回答，"过去也许是这样，但现在已大不同了。如果天降小米粥，我可没有勺儿。我总是干些发笑的勾当，比如做做鬼脸逗人发笑。如果他们给我一个苹果吃，我就大咬一口，不过它是酸的。悲哀常常藏在欢笑之后！三十年我可耐不住。"上帝仁慈，减了它十年。
最后人类出现了，他是那样地开心、健康而又充满生命力，他请上帝指定他的寿命。 "你将活三十年，"上帝说，"够长了吗？""太短了，"人说，"当我刚建起我的房子、在自己的灶上烧火时，当我辛勤栽培的树木刚开花结果时，当我正准备享受生活时，我却要死了！哦，主呀，请延长我的生命吧！""加上驴子的十八年。"上帝说。 "那还不够。"人回答。 "那再加上狗的十二年。""还是太少了。""那么，"上帝说，"我再给你猴子的十年，但不能再多了。"人走了，但还是不满意。
这样人活七十岁，起先三十年是他的本份，但瞬息即逝，这阶段他健康、快乐，高兴地工作，生活也充满了欢乐。 接下来是驴子的十八年，这时候，生活的负担压在肩上，他得辛勤地劳作养活他人，他这种忠实的服务换来的却是拳打和脚踢。 然后是狗的十二年，那时他失去了利齿，咬不动东西，只能躺在墙脚忿忿不平地低吼。 这痛苦日子过后，猴子般的生活结束了他最后的一生。 这时，他傻头傻脑，糊里糊涂，成了孩子们捉弄、嘲笑的对象。
When God had created the world and was about to fix the length of each creature's life, the ass came and asked, "Lord, how long shall I live?" - "Thirty years," replied God; "does that content thee?" - "Ah, Lord," answered the ass, "that is a long time. Think of my painful existence! To carry heavy burdens from morning to night, to drag sacks of corn to the mill, that others may eat bread, to be cheered and refreshed with nothing but blows and kicks. Relieve me of a portion of this long time." Then God had pity on him and relieved him of eighteen years. The ass went away comforted, and the dog appeared. "How long wouldst thou like to live?" said God to him. "Thirty years are too many for the ass, but thou wilt be satisfied with that." - "Lord," answered the dog, "is that thy will? Consider how I shall have to run, my feet will never hold out so long, and when I have once lost my voice for barking, and my teeth for biting, what will be left for me to do but run from one corner to another and growl?" God saw that he was right, and released him from twelve years of life. Then came the monkey. "Thou wilt certainly live thirty years willingly?" said the Lord to him. "Thou hast no need to work as the ass and the dog have to do, and wilt always enjoy thyself." - "Ah! Lord," he answered, "it may seem as if that were the case, but it is quite different. When it rains porridge I have no spoon. I am always to play merry pranks, and make faces which force people to laugh, and if they give me an apple, and I bite into it, why it is sour! How often sadness hides itself behind mirth! I shall never be able to hold out for thirty years." God was gracious and took off ten.
At last man appeared, joyous, healthy and vigorous, and begged God to appoint his time for him. "Thirty years shalt thou live," said the Lord. "Is that enough for thee?" - "What a short time," cried man, "when I have built my house and my fire burns on my own hearth; when I have planted trees which blossom and bear fruit, and am just intending to enjoy my life, I am to die! O Lord, lengthen my time." - "I will add to it the ass's eighteen years," said God. "That is not enough," replied the man. "Thou shalt also have the dog's twelve years." - "Still too little!" - "Well, then," said God, "I will give thee the monkey's ten years also, but more thou shalt not have." The man went away, but was not satisfied.
So man lives seventy years. The first thirty are his human years, which are soon gone; then is he healthy, merry, works with pleasure, and is glad of his life. Then follow the ass's eighteen years, when one burden after another is laid on him, he has to carry the corn which feeds others, and blows and kicks are the reward of his faithful services. Then come the dog's twelve years, when he lies in the corner, and growls and has no longer any teeth to bite with, and when this time is over the monkey's ten years form the end. Then man is weak- headed and foolish, does silly things, and becomes the jest of the children.