Subscribe: by Email | in Reader

The Pied Piper of Hamelin -- Robert Browning

(Poem #242) The Pied Piper of Hamelin
    A Child's Story
    (Written for, and inscribed to, W.M. the Younger)


 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.


 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
 ln fifty different sharps and flats.


 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.


 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!"


 "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 my great-grandsire,
 Starting up at the trump of doom's tone,
 Had walked this way from his painted tombstone!"


 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.


 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."


 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!"


 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 gipsy 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!


 The Piper's face fell, and he cried
 No trifling! I can't wait beside!
 I've promised to visit by dinnertime
 Bagdat, and accept the prime
 Of the Head-Cooks 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 after another fashion,


 "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!


 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.


 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,
 --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,--
 "It¹s dull in our town since my playmates left!
 I can¹t forget that I'm bereft
 Of all 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!"


 Alas, alas for Hamelin!
 There came into many a burgher's pate
 A text which says that heaven¹s gate
 Opes 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 heart¹s 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
 The outlandish ways and dress
 On which their neighbors lay such stress,
 To their fathers and mothers having risen
 Out of some subterraneous 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.


 So, Willy, let you and me be wipers
 Of scores out with all men -- especially pipers!
 And, whether pipe us free from rats or from mice,
 If we've promised them ought, let us keep our promise.
-- Robert Browning
This was the first Browning poem I ever read, and it has never ceased to
delight me. The versification is, as always, nothing short of superb, with a
pattering metre well in keeping with the spirit of the fairy tale, and
playfully clever rhymes.

Indeed, I think 'The Pied Piper' comes close to the ideal of what a
childrens' poem should be. It tells a gripping story, and tells it well; the
verse is a pleasure both to memorise and to recite, and perhaps most
importantly, Browning does not write down to his audience. Notice that at no
point has he shied away from the difficult word, the complex construction -
indeed, the poem was responsible for adding several words to my

I wish, though, that Browning had resisted the temptation to add a moral to
the tale. (And it seems anthologists agree - most places I've seen the poem,
the last verse is omitted).

[1] and, more recently, I was reading the poem when I was suddenly struck by
the real meaning of 'outlandish'. Think about it.


See the previous Browning poems in the Minstrels archive,

41 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Andy Beck said...

Just wondered if anyone knows who "W M the younger" was - W is William,
from that last verse, but is he a royal? From the house of Hanover
perhaps? I'd love to know.



Pierre E. Faubert said...

A poem is lyrical symbolism. If the symbol is rich, many interpretations
can stem from it. Whether the original author intended it or not, the
reader can, from his/her experience glean some significant meaning
applicable to contemporary situations.

For the last few years, I've been reminded of this poem because today's
modern "pipers" are leading our children to other alienating lands. We
adults have not taken our role of responsibly caring for our children
seriously and we are now paying the price. The "Piper" is taking away
our children to other "lands". We are losing our youth to that which is
attracting them and in many ways alienating them from themselves. As
teacher and psychologist, I see how our most precious children, are
attracted by the masters of illusions. They created illusions which
exploit our youth in order to gain thier "loyalty" through subliminal
and not so subtle messages enticing them to the virtual world. An escape
from reality which if consciously chosen can be managed. But if this
"trip" to "Nirvana" is orchestrated by unscrupulous individuals who's
only intention is to turn them into economic and moral hostages, we have
only ourselves as disengaged adults to blame. We have not paid our
dues...and our children are being led away...

Pierre E. Faubert, B.Th., M.Ed.-Psy.

Mary Sullivan said...

Please, please ... fill the gap between Verses 6 and 10!
also 'Bagdat' ? in v.10 needs to be checked.



Hilary Gray said...

To Andy Beck:
W.M. in this poem is William Macready, the son of William Charles
(W.C.) Macready, an actor and friend of Browning. The poem was written
because "W.M. the younger" was ill, so Browning sent him this poem to


Suman K Manandhar said...

It's incomplete after the line

round his neck .



Chris051083 said...

No William was a friend of Robert Brownings and William was ill so Robert
wrote the poem for William an asked him to illustrate it when he was better .

sirus said...

من تصویری از آن قدیس همیشه گی می بینم که دنیای دورغ و قول های اجابت نشده را ترک می گوید تا در دنیای تخیلی پناه گیرد اما اشکال کار را باید در اندیشه های سخیف ِ بوجود آورنده ی گریزهای مداوم دانست به مدینه های سحرآمیز

سیروس شاملو

Jefforbited said...

Who is Willy referred to in the last verse. I'd love to know as I am
writing an article about the poem.

Jeff Dugdale, Elgin, Scotland.

male extra pills said...

penis enlargement, penis enlargement pills, male enhancement, male enhancement pills

Penis enlargement pills have been proven is the best way to make the penis bigger and effective to increase men’s sexual performance.vimax pills, vigrx plus, prosolution pills, maleextra

pajama jeans said...

This post was informing and i havent missed anything.

Space Matters Real Estates said...

Hello There. I found your blog using msn. This is a really well written article. I’ll be sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your useful information. Thanks for the post. I will definitely return. Plots for sale in Hyderabad
Plots for sale in Banjara Hills
Plots for sale in Jubilee Hills
Plots for sale in Manikonda
Plots for sale in Madhapur
Plots for sale in kondapur
Plots for sale in Gachibowli
Plots for sale in Kukatpally

mebel jepara said...

mkasih infonya gan

Paul Reed said...

Thanks for the sharing, this blog is very intersting. Business finance | Home improvement | It's very informarmative and very knowladgeable blog.

lina sexshop said...

Obat Kuat

Thank you for sharing in this article

I can learn a lot and could also be a reference

I am happy to find your website and can join to comment

I think is very valuable to be able to read your writing, and on this occasion will I use for my reference source

Thank you so much for sharing, I hope you continue to write spirit next topic

>> Obat pembesar penis <<

Viagra said...

makasih informasinya..

Obat Herbal said...

Seberat apapun beban masalah yang kamu hadapi saat ini, percayalah bahwa semua itu tidak pernah melebihi batas kemampuan kamu.

Post a Comment