Poem for December

From ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’by Robert Browning


At the first shrill notes of the pipe,

I heard a noise 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 of 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 drysaltery!

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.’

Robert Browning (1812 – 1889) is now recognised as one of the great Victorian poets although for long periods during his lifetime his standing was tarnished by a reputation for being obscure. Born in Camberwell and largely self taught, he is famous for his marriage to Elizabeth Barrett with whom he eloped to live in Italy. One of his best loved poems, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, was written for children but has remained a favourite with adults too. In this lively extract the sole surviving rat describes the magic of the piper’s music.