07/22/03
The Pied Piper
    by Rita Smith

The Pied Piper of Hamelin, that wonderful narrative poem for children written by Robert Browning, was first published July 22, 1842. In Browning's version of the legend, the town of Hamelin was infested with rats:

"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 ladles,

And even spoiled the women's chats

By drowning their speaking

With shrieking and squeaking

In fifty different sharps and flats."

The village people and the town council were holding a meeting to decide what to do about the rats when a stranger appeared and offered, for the sum of one thousand gilders, to get rid of them. The officers agreed and the young man went into the street and began blowing on his pipe. Before he had blown three notes the rats emerged in great numbers from their hiding places all over town:

"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!"

Having accomplished his task he returned to the council for his payment. The council, who preferred to spend their money on fine clothes and wine, reneged on the agreement. Seeking revenge, the Piper went back out to the street and began piping again. Before he had blown three notes, the children of the town began to gather:

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 Piper leads them away from the river toward a mountain. The town's people are relieved, because they know the Piper won't be able to get them over the mountain, but

"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."

That was the last that was ever seen of the children or the Piper, although on the other side of the mountain

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

[A] Long time ago in a mighty band

But how or why, they don't understand.

Copyright 2003 Rita Smith

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