THE RATS AND MICE
[WRITTEN IN 1839]
BY WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT
Once on a time, as saith our story,
Within a single edifice,
A nation flourished in its glory,
Whose citizens were rats and mice.
The politics they prospered under
Passed far and widely for a wonder,
So based were they on reason's laws,
And equal rights of vermin;--
So planned, the general good to cause,
And cleanly keep Justitia's ermine.
The mice were populous by legions,
But mostly in the upper regions,
Where cracks and crevices so small were,
That none but mice could go at all there.
But there they got a name and grew,
Established trade and ports of entry,
And made improvements not a few,
In cupboards, case and pantry.
The rats rejoiced in cellar spacious,
Where finding ample fare,
With little thought or care,
They grew remarkably audacious,--
Great statesmen they, and rhetoricians,
And eke by nature politicians.
On every great occasion,
The counsel of the nation
Assembled duly in
An empty barrel bin
Where dog and cat police
And foul monopolies,
And all affairs of state,
Gave rise to much debate.
Long lived this great mouse-ratic union,
While enemies were hurt to see
The wondrous peace and courtesy
With which the parties held communion.
At length some busy story-teller
Began to noise it through the house,
That everything down in the cellar
Worked badly for the mouse.
Instead of persons fat and sleek,
They seemed but shadows, thin and weak,
Those cellar mices--poor starveling wretches,
Like what we're told are seen in churches!
For food,--while rats were proud to waste it,--
These famished mice dared hardly taste it.
And worse,--'twas rumored that
Full many a tyrant rat
Had sold his neighbors to the cat!
Resolved to have investigation
In general council of the nation,
Some garret-mice there brought the charge
Against the race of rats at large.
Up jumped a hundred rats or more,
In furious haste to get the floor;
The one that did, in speech er-rat-ic,
Cried, "Mr. Speaker, I should like to know
What, with our cellar-mice, they have to do
Who live up in the attic!
"Our institutions are our own,
We swear they must be left alone;
Our mice (for they indeed belong to us,)
Are better off than those who make the fuss;
A subject that we deign not to discuss,
But let the canting saints,
Who make these sad complaints,
Their whiskers show the cellar side
And we the question will decide,
By means far briefer than haranguing,
That is to say, by hanging!"
A grey old mouse, that caught the Speaker's eye,
In nick of time, thus made reply:--
"I hold that mice of sense
Will vote to save expense
Of further inquisition,--
And take with full reliance,
This chivalrous defiance,
As equal to confession.
None but the guilty deprecate
The lightning flash of free debate."