The Pied Piper of Hamelin

Robert Browning - 1812-1889

I

Hamelin Town's in Brunswick, 
By famous Hanover city; 
The river Weser, deep and wide, 
Washes its wall on the southern side; 
A pleasanter spot you never spied; 
But, when begins my ditty, 
Almost five hundred years ago, 
To see the townsfolk suffer so 
From vermin, was a pity.

 
II

Rats! 
They fought the dogs and killed the cats, 
And bit the babies in the cradles, 
And ate the cheeses out of the vats, 
And licked the soup from the cooks' own ladle's, 
Split open the kegs of salted sprats, 
Made nests inside men's Sunday hats, 
And even spoiled the women's chats 
By drowning their speaking 
With shrieking and squeaking 
In fifty different sharps and flats.

 
III

At last the people in a body 
To the town hall came flocking: 
"'Tis clear," cried they, 'our Mayor's a noddy; 
And as for our Corporation--shocking 
To think we buy gowns lined with ermine 
For dolts that can't or won't determine 
What's best to rid us of our vermin! 
You hope, because you're old and obese, 
To find in the furry civic robe ease? 
Rouse up, sirs! Give your brains a racking 
To find the remedy we're lacking, 
Or, sure as fate, we'll send you packing!" 
At this the Mayor and Corporation 
Quaked with a mighty consternation.

 
IV

An hour they sat in council, 
At length the Mayor broke silence: 
"For a guilder I'd my ermine gown sell, 
I wish I were a mile hence!
It's easy to bid one rack one's brain-- 
I'm sure my poor head aches again, 
I've scratched it so, and all in vain 
Oh for a trap, a trap, a trap!"
Just as he said this, what should hap 
At the chamber door but a gentle tap? 
"Bless us,' cried the Mayor, "what's that?" 
(With the Corporation as he sat, 
Looking little though wondrous fat; 
Nor brighter was his eye, nor moister 
Than a too-long-opened oyster, 
Save when at noon his paunch grew mutinous 
For a plate of turtle, green and glutinous) 
"Only a scraping of shoes on the mat? 
Anything like the sound of a rat 
Makes my heart go pit-a-pat!"

 
V

"Come in!"--the Mayor cried, looking bigger: 
And in did come the strangest figure! 
His queer long coat from heel to head 
Was half of yellow and half of red 
And he himself was tall and thin, 
With sharp blue eyes, each like a pin, 
And light loose hair, yet swarthy skin, 
No tuft on cheek nor beard on chin, 
But lips where smiles went out and in--
There was no guessing his kith and kin!
And nobody could enough admire 
The tall man and his quaint attire. 
Quoth one:  "It's as if my great-grandsire, 
Starting up at the Trump of Doom's tone, 
Had walked this way from his painted tombstone!"

 
VI

He advanced to the council-table: 
And, "Please your honors," said he, "I'm able, 
By means of a secret charm, to draw 
All creatures living beneath the sun, 
That creep or swim or fly or run, 
After me so as you never saw!
And I chiefly use my charm 
On creatures that do people harm, 
The mole and toad and newt and viper; 
And people call me the Pied Piper." 
(And here they noticed round his neck 
A scarf of red and yellow stripe, 
To match with his coat of the self-same check; 
And at the scarf's end hung a pipe; 
And his fingers, they noticed, were ever straying 
As if impatient to be playing 
Upon this pipe, as low it dangled 
Over his vesture so old-fangled.) 
"Yet," said he, "poor piper as I am, 
In Tartary I freed the Cham, 
Last June, from his huge swarm of gnats; 
I eased in Asia the Nizam 
Of a monstrous brood of vampyre-bats: 
And as for what your brain bewilders--
If I can rid your town of rats 
Will you give me a thousand guilders?" 
"One? Fifty thousand!" was the exclamation 
Of the astonished Mayor and Corporation.

 
VII

Into the street the Piper stept, 
Smiling first a little smile,
As if he knew what magic slept 
In his quiet pipe the while; 
Then, like a musical adept, 
To blow the pipe his lips he wrinkled, 
And green and blue his sharp eyes twinkled, 
Like a candle-flame where salt is sprinkled; 
And ere three shrill notes the pipe uttered, 
You heard as if an army muttered; 
And the muttering grew to a grumbling; 
And the grumbling grew to a mighty rumbling; 
And out of the houses the rats came tumbling. 
Great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats, 
Brown rats, black rats, gray rats, tawny rats, 
Grave old plodders, gay young friskers, 
Fathers, mothers, uncles, cousins, 
Cocking tails and pricking whiskers, 
Families by tens and dozens,
Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives-- 
Followed the Piper for their lives. 
From street to street he piped advancing, 
And step for step they followed dancing, 
Until they came to the river Weser 
Wherein all plunged and perished! 
‹Save one who, stout as Julius Caesar, 
Swam across and lived to carry 
(As the manuscript he cherished) 
To Rat-land home his commentary: 
Which was, "At the first shrill notes of the pipe, 
I heard a sound as of scraping tripe, 
And putting apples, wondrous ripe, 
Into a cider-press's gripe: 
And a moving away of pickle-tub-boards, 
And a leaving ajar of conserve-cupboards, 
And a drawing the corks of train-oil-flasks, 
And a breaking the hoops of butter-casks: 
And it seemed as if a voice 
(Sweeter far than by harp or by psaltery 
Is breathed) called out, 'Oh rats, rejoice! 
The world is grown to one vast dry-saltery! 
So munch on, crunch on, take your nuncheon, 
Breakfast, supper, dinner, luncheon!' 
And just as a bulky sugar-puncheon, 
All ready staved, like a great sun shone 
Glorious scarce an inch before me,
Just as methought it said 'Come bore me!' 
-- I found the Weser rolling o'er me."

 
VIII

You should have heard the Hamelin people 
Ringing the bells till they rocked the steeple. 
Go," cried the Mayor, "and get long poles! 
Poke out the nests and block up the holes! 
Consult with carpenters and builders 
And leave in our town not even a trace 
Of the rats!"-- when suddenly, up the face 
Of the Piper perked in the market-place,
With a, "First, if you please, my thousand guilders!"

 
IX

A thousand guilders! The Mayor looked blue; 
So did the Corporation too. 
For council dinners made rare havoc 
With Claret, Moselle, Vin-de-Grave, Hock; 
And half the money would replenish 
Their cellar's biggest butt with Rhenish. 
To pay this sum to a wandering fellow 
With a gypsy coat of red and yellow! 
"Beside," quoth the Mayor with a knowing wink, 
"Our business was done at the river's brink; 
We saw with our eyes the vermin sink, 
And what's dead can't come to life, I think. 
So, friend, we're not the folks to shrink 
From the duty of giving you something for drink, 
And a matter of money to put in your poke; 
But as for the guilders, what we spoke 
Of them, as you very well know, was in joke. 
Beside, our losses have made us thrifty. 
A thousand guilders! Come, take fifty!

 
X

The Piper's face fell, and he cried,
"No trifling! I can't wait! Beside,
I've promised to visit by dinnertime 
Bagdad, and accept the prime 
Of the Head-Cook's pottage, all he's rich in, 
For having left, in the Caliph's kitchen, 
Of a nest of scorpions no survivor--
With him I proved no bargain-driver, 
With you, don't think I'll bate a stiver! 
And folks who put me in a passion 
May find me pipe to another fashion."

 
XI

"How?" cried the Mayor, "d'ye think I brook 
Being worse treated than a Cook? 
Insulted by a lazy ribald 
With idle pipe and vesture piebald? 
You threaten us, fellow? Do your worst, 
Blow your pipe there till you burst!"

 
XII

Once more he stept into the street 
And to his lips again 
Laid his long pipe of smooth straight cane; 
And ere he blew three notes (such sweet 
Soft notes as yet musician's cunning 
Never gave the enraptured air) 
There was a rustling that seemed like a bustling 
Of merry crowds justling at pitching and hustling, 
Small feet were pattering, wooden shoes clattering, 
Little hands clapping, and little tongues chattering, 
And, like fowls in a farm-yard when barley is scattering, 
Out came the children running. 
All the little boys and girls, 
With rosy cheeks and flaxen curls, 
And sparkling eyes and teeth like pearls, 
Tripping and skipping, ran merrily after 
The wonderful music with shouting and laughter.

 
XIII

The Mayor was dumb, and the Council stood 
As if they were changed into blocks of wood, 
Unable to move a step or cry, 
To the children merrily skipping by--
And could only follow with the eye 
That joyous crowd at the Piper's back. 
But how the Mayor was on the rack 
And the wretched Council's bosoms beat, 
As the Piper turned from the High Street 
To where the Weser rolled its water's 
Right in the way of their sons and daughters! 
However he turned from South to West 
And to Koppelberg Hill his steps addressed, 
And after him the children pressed; 
Great was the joy in every breast.
"He never can cross that mighty top! 
He's forced to let the piping drop 
And we shall see our children stop! 
When, lo, as they reached the mountain-side, 
A wondrous portal opened wide,
As if a cavern was suddenly hollowed; 
And the Piper advanced and the children followed, 
And when all were in to the very last, 
The door in the mountain-side shut fast. 
Did I say all? No! One was lame, 
And could not dance the whole of the way; 
And in after years, if you would blame 
His sadness, he was used to say,-- 
"It's dull in our town since my playmates left! 
I can't forget that I'm bereft 
Of all the pleasant sights they see, 
Which the Piper also promised me. 
For he led us, he said, to a joyous land, 
Joining the town and just at hand, 
Where waters gushed and fruit-trees grew,
And flowers put forth a fairer hue, 
And everything was strange and new;
The sparrows were brighter than peacocks here, 
And their dogs outran our fallow deer, 
And honey-bees had lost their stings, 
And horses were born with eagles' wings: 
And just as I became assured
My lame foot would be speedily cured, 
The music stopped and I stood still, 
And found myself outside the hill, 
Left alone against my will, 
To go now limping as before, 
And never hear of that country more!

 
XIV

Alas, alas for Hamelin! 
There came into many a burgher's pate 
A text which says that heaven's gate 
Opens to the rich at as easy rate 
As the needle's eye takes a camel in! 
The mayor sent East, West, North and South, 
To offer the Piper, by word of mouth 
Wherever it was men's lot to find him,
Silver and gold to his heart's content,
If he'd only return the way he went, 
And bring the children behind him. 
But when they saw 'twas a lost endeavor, 
And Piper and dancers were gone forever, 
They made a decree that lawyers never 
Should think their records dated duly 
If, after the day of the month and year, 
These words did not as well appear:
"And so long after what happened here 
On the twenty-second of July, 
Thirteen hundred and seventy-six;"
And the better in memory to fix 
The place of the children's last retreat, 
They called it the Pied Piper's Street,
Where any one playing on pipe or tabor 
Was sure for the future to lose his labor. 
Nor suffered they hostelry or tavern 
To shock with mirth a street so solemn, 
But opposite the place of the cavern
They wrote the story on a column,
And on the great church-window painted 
The same, to make the world acquainted 
How their children were stolen away, 
And there it stands to this very day. 
And I must not omit to say 
That, in Transylvania there's a tribe 
Of alien people who ascribe 
To the outlandish ways and dress 
On which their neighbors lay such stress, 
To their fathers and mothers having risen 
Out of some subterranean prison 
Into which they were trepanned 
Long time ago in a mighty band 
Out of Hamelin town in Brunswick land, 
But how or why they don't understand.

 
XV

So, Willy, let you and me be wipers 
Of scores out with all men--especially pipers! 
And, whether they pipe us free, from rats or from mice, 
If we've promised them ought, let us keep our promise.

More by Robert Browning

Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister

Gr-r-r--there go, my heart's abhorrence!
   Water your damned flower-pots, do!
If hate killed men, Brother Lawrence,
   God's blood, would not mine kill you!
What? your myrtle-bush wants trimming? 
   Oh, that rose has prior claims--
Needs its leaden vase filled brimming?
   Hell dry you up with its flames!

At the meal we sit together;
   Salve tibi! I must hear
Wise talk of the kind of weather, 
   Sort of season, time of year:
Not a plenteous cork crop: scarcely
   Dare we hope oak-galls, I doubt;
What's the Latin name for "parsley"?
   What's the Greek name for "swine's snout"?

Whew! We'll have our platter burnished, 
   Laid with care on our own shelf!
With a fire-new spoon we're furnished,
   And a goblet for ourself,
Rinsed like something sacrificial
   Ere 'tis fit to touch our chaps--
Marked with L. for our initial!
   (He-he! There his lily snaps!)

Saint, forsooth! While Brown Dolores 
   Squats outside the Convent bank
With Sanchicha, telling stories,
   Steeping tresses in the tank,
Blue-black, lustrous, thick like horsehairs,
   --Can't I see his dead eye glow, 
Bright as 'twere a Barbary corsair's?
   (That is, if he'd let it show!)

When he finishes refection,
   Knife and fork he never lays
Cross-wise, to my recollection,
   As do I, in Jesu's praise.
I the Trinity illustrate,
   Drinking watered orange pulp--
In three sips the Arian frustrate;
   While he drains his at one gulp!

Oh, those melons! if he's able
   We're to have a feast; so nice!
One goes to the Abbot's table,
   All of us get each a slice.
How go on your flowers? None double?
   Not one fruit-sort can you spy?
Strange!--And I, too, at such trouble,
   Keep them close-nipped on the sly!

There's a great text in Galatians,
   Once you trip on it, entails
Twenty-nine district damnations,
   One sure, if another fails;
If I trip him just a-dying,
   Sure of heaven as sure can be,
Spin him round and send him flying
   Off to hell, a Manichee?

Or, my scrofulous French novel
   On grey paper with blunt type!
Simply glance at it, you grovel
   Hand and foot in Belial's gripe;
If I double down its pages
   At the woeful sixteenth print,
When he gathers his greengages,
   Ope a sieve and slip it in't?

Or, there's Satan!--one might venture
   Pledge one's soul to him, yet leave
Such a flaw in the indenture
   As he'd miss till, past retrieve,
Blasted lay that rose-acacia
   We're so proud of! Hy, Zy, Hine...
'St, there's Vespers! Plena gratia
  Ave, Virgo! Gr-r-r--you swine!

My Last Duchess

That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will 't please you sit and look at her? I said
'Frà Pandolf' by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 't was not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps
Frà Pandolf chanced to say, 'Her mantle laps
Over my lady's wrist too much,' or 'Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat:' such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, 't was all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,  
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, 'Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark'—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
—E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will 't please you rise? We'll meet
The company below then. I repeat,
The Count your master's known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

Rabbi Ben Ezra

   Grow old along with me!
   The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
   Our times are in His hand
   Who saith, 'A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be 
       afraid!'

   Not that, amassing flowers,
   Youth sighed, 'Which rose make ours, 
Which lily leave and then as best recall?'
   Not that, admiring stars,
   It yearned, 'Nor Jove, nor Mars;
Mine be some figured flame which blends, transcends
       them all!'
	   
   Not for such hopes and fears 
   Annulling youth's brief years,
Do I remonstrate: folly wide the mark! 
   Rather I prize the doubt
   Low kinds exist without,
Finished and finite clods, untroubled by a spark.

   Poor vaunt of life indeed,
   Were man but formed to feed
On joy, to solely seek and find and feast; 
   Such feasting ended, then
   As sure an end to men;
Irks care the crop-full bird? Frets doubt the 
       maw-crammed beast?

   Rejoice we are allied
   To That which doth provide
And not partake, effect and not receive! 
   A spark disturbs our clod;
   Nearer we hold of God
Who gives, than of His tribes that take, I must believe.

   Then, welcome each rebuff
   That turns earth's smoothness rough,
Each sting that bids nor sit nor stand but go! 
   Be our joys three-parts pain!
   Strive, and hold cheap the strain;
Learn, nor account the pang; dare, never grudge 
       the throe!

   For thence,—a paradox
   Which comforts while it mocks,—
Shall life succeed in that it seems to fail:
   What I aspired to be,
   And was not, comforts me:
A brute I might have been, but would not sink 
    i' the scale.
	
   What is he but a brute 
   Whose flesh has soul to suit,
Whose spirit works lest arms and legs want play? 
   To man, propose this test—
   Thy body at its best,
How far can that project thy soul on its lone way?

   Yet gifts should prove their use:
   I own the Past profuse
Of power each side, perfection every turn:
   Eyes, ears took in their dole,
   Brain treasured up the whole;
Should not the heart beat once 'How good to 
       live and learn'?

   Not once beat 'Praise be thine!
   I see the whole design,
I, who saw power, see now love perfect too: 
   Perfect I call thy plan:
   Thanks that I was a man!
Maker, remake, complete,—I trust what Thou 
       shalt do!'

   For pleasant is this flesh;
   Our soul, in its rose-mesh
Pulled ever to the earth, still yearns for rest:
   Would we some prize might hold
   To match those manifold
Possessions of the brute,—gain most, as we did best!

   Let us not always say,
   'Spite of this flesh to-day
I strove, made head, gained ground upon the whole!' 
   As the bird wings and sings,
   Let us cry, 'All good things
Are ours, nor soul helps flesh more, now, than 
       flesh helps soul!'
	   
   Therefore I summon age 
   To grant youth's heritage,
Life's struggle having so far reached its term:
   Thence shall I pass, approved
   A man, for aye removed
From the developed brute; a god though in the 
       germ.

   And I shall thereupon
   Take rest, ere I be gone
Once more on my adventure brave and new:
   Fearless and unperplexed,
   When I wage battle next,
What weapons to select, what armour to indue.

   Youth ended, I shall try
   My gain or loss thereby;
Leave the fire ashes, what survives is gold:
   And I shall weigh the same,
   Give life its praise or blame:
Young, all lay in dispute; I shall know, being old.

   For, note when evening shuts,
   A certain moment cuts
The deed off, calls the glory from the grey:
   A whisper from the west 
   Shoots—'Add this to the rest, 
   Take it and try its worth: here dies another day.'

   So, still within this life,
   Though lifted o'er its strife,
Let me discern, compare, pronounce at last, 
   'This rage was right i' the main,
   That acquiescence vain:
The Future I may face now I have proved the 
       Past.'
	   
   For more is not reserved 
   To man, with soul just nerved
To act to-morrow what he learns to-day:
   Here, work enough to watch
   The Master work, and catch
Hints of the proper craft, tricks of the tool's true play.

   As it was better, youth
   Should strive, through acts uncouth, 
Toward making, than repose on aught found made:
   So, better, age, exempt
   From strife, should know, than tempt 
Further. Thou waitedst age: wait death nor be afraid!

   Enough now, if the Right
   And Good and Infinite
Be named here, as thou callest thy hand thine own, 
   With knowledge absolute,
   Subject to no dispute
From fools that crowded youth, nor let thee feel 
       alone.

   Be there, for once and all,
   Severed great minds from small,
Announced to each his station in the Past! 
   Was I, the world arraigned,
   Were they, my soul disdained,
Right? Let age speak the truth and give us peace 
       at last!

   Now, who shall arbitrate?
   Ten men love what I hate,
Shun what I follow, slight what I receive; 
   Ten, who in ears and eyes
   Match me: we all surmise,
They, this thing, and I, that: whom shall my 
       soul believe?

   Not on the vulgar mass
   Called 'work', must sentence pass,
Things done, that took the eye and had the price; 
   O'er which, from level stand,
   The low world laid its hand,
Found straightway to its mind, could value in a trice:

   But all, the world's coarse thumb
   And finger failed to plumb,
So passed in making up the main account; 
   All instinct immature,
   All purposes unsure,
That weighed not as his work, yet swelled 
   the man's amount:

   Thoughts hardly to be packed
   Into a narrow act,
Fancies that broke through language and escaped; 
   All I could never be,
   All, men ignored in me,
This, I was worth to God, whose wheel the pitcher 
       shaped.

   Ay, note that Potter's wheel,
   That metaphor! and feel
Why time spins fast, why passive lies our clay,—
   Thou, to whom fools propound,
   When the wine makes its round,
'Since life fleets, all is change; the Past gone, seize 
       to-day!'

   Fool! All that is, at all,
   Lasts ever, past recall;
Earth changes, but thy soul and God stand sure:
   What entered into thee,
   That was, is, and shall be:
Time's wheel runs back or stops: Potter and clay 
       endure.
	   
   He fixed thee mid this dance 
   Of plastic circumstance,
This Present, thou, forsooth, wouldst fain arrest:
   Machinery just meant
   To give thy souls its bent,
Try thee and turn thee forth, sufficiently impressed.

   What though the earlier grooves 
   Which ran the laughing loves
Around thy base, no longer pause and press? 
   What though about thy rim,
   Skull-things in order grim
Grow out, in graver mood, obey the sterner stress?

   Look not thou down but up!
   To uses of a cup,
The festal board, lamp's flash, and trumpet's peal, 
   The new wine's foaming flow,
   The Master's lips a-glow!
Thou, heaven's consummate cup, what need'st 
   thou with earth's wheel?

   But I need, now as then,
   Thee, God, who mouldest men;
And since, not even while the whirl was worst, 
   Did I—to the wheel of life
   With shapes and colours rife,
Bound dizzily,—mistake my end, to slake Thy thirst:

   So, take and use Thy work,
   Amend what flaws may lurk,
What strain o' the stuff, what warpings past the   
       aim!
   My times be in Thy hand!
   Perfect the cup as planned!
Let age approve of youth, and death complete 
        the same!