Animal news: mice are eating Australia

Slight exaggeration but this New York Times piece isn’t slight. Or funny. As the reporter, Yan Zhuang writes:

In addition to devouring crops, they’ve bitten people in their beds, dropped out of air-conditioning units and gnawed through appliances. They’ve eaten the toes off chickens in their pens. They’ve been blamed as whole towns have lost phone reception and a house has burned down.

Instantly, I began mentally to recite Robert Browning’s “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” the opening three stanzas of which I had selected and memorized for a high school English course. Why that poem, instead of a love sonnet? I guess because it told a epic story, a mix-up of social and political satire, compassion for the disabled and the ones left behind, an attack on the avarice of the rich, and horror, delivered in a witty staccato cadence.

That is, “The Pied Piper” was pure, teenage me.

I still remember almost every line, although neither my prowess nor the poem can help Australian farmers. For that I am sorry.


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’ve 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 cook’s own ladles,

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.


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.

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