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The Country Mouse and the Town Mouse

Sir Thomas Wyatt 1503 (Allington Castle, Kent) – 1542 (Clifton Maybank House, Dorset)

My mother's maids, when they did sew and spin,
They sang sometime a song of the field mouse,
That for because her livelood was but thin
Would needs go seek her townish sister's house.
She thought herself endured to much pain:
The stormy blasts her cave so sore did souse
That when the furrows swimmed with the rain
She must lie cold and wet in sorry plight,
And, worse than that, bare meat there did remain
To comfort her when she her house had dight:
Sometime a barleycorn, sometime a bean,
For which she labored hard both day and night
In harvest time, whilst she might go and glean.
And when her store was 'stroyed with the flood,
Then well away, for she undone was clean.
Then was she fain to take, instead of food,
Sleep if she might, her hunger to beguile.
"My sister," qoth she, "hath a living good,
And hence from me she dwelleth not a mile.
In cold and storm she lieth warm and dry
In bed of down, and dirt doth not defile
Her tender foot, she laboreth not as I.
Richly she feedeth and at the rich man's cost,
And for her meat she needs not crave nor cry.
By sea, by land, of the delicates the most
Her cater seeks and spareth for no peril.
She feedeth on boiled, baken meat, and roast,
And hath thereof neither charge nor travail.
And, when she list, the liquor of the grape
Doth goad her heart till that her belly swell."
And at this journey she maketh but a jape:
So forth she goeth, trusting of all this wealth
With her sister her part so for to shape
That, if she might keep herself in health,
To live a lady while her life doth last.
And to the door now is she come by stealth,
And with her foot anon she scrapeth full fast.
The other for fear durst not well scarce appear,
Of every noise so was the wretch aghast.
"Peace," quoth the town mouse, "why speakest thou so loud?"
And by the hand she took her fair and well.
"Welcome," quoth she, "my sister, by the rood."
She feasted her that joy is was to tell
The fare they had; they drank the wine so clear;
And as to purpose now and then it fell
She cheered her with: "How, sister, what cheer?"
Amids this joy there fell a sorry chance,
That, wellaway, the stranger bought full dear
The fare she had. For as she looks, askance,
Under a stool she spied two steaming eyes
In a round head with sharp ears. In France
was never mouse so feared, for though the unwise
Had not yseen such a beast before,
Yet had nature taught her after her guise
To know her foe and dread him evermore.
The town mouse fled; she knew whither to go.
The other had no shift, but wondrous sore
Feared of her life, at home she wished her, though.
And to the door, alas, as she did skip
(Th' heaven it would, lo, and eke her chance was so)
At the threshold her silly foot did trip,
And ere she might recover it again
The traitor cat had caught her by the hip
And made her there against her will remain
That had forgotten her poor surety, and rest,
For seeming wealth wherein she thought to reign.
Alas, my Poynz, how men do seek the best
And find the worst, by error as they stray.
And no marvel, when sight is so opprest
And blind the guide. Anon out of the way
Goeth guide and all in seeking quiet life.
O wretched minds, there is no gold that may
Grant that ye seek, no war, no peace, no strife,
No, no, although thy head was hoopt with gold,
Sergeant with mace, haubert, sword, nor knife
Cannot repulse the care that follow should.
Each kind of life hath with him his disease:
Live in delight even as thy lust would,
And thou shalt find when lust doth most thee please
It irketh strait and by itself doth fade.
A small thing it is that may thy mind appease.
None of ye all there is that is so mad
To seek grapes upon brambles or breers,
Not none I trow that hath his wit so bad
To set his hay for conies over rivers,
Ne ye set not a drag net for an hare
And yet the thing that most is your desire
Ye do misseek with more travail and care.
Make plain thine heart, that it be not notted
With hope or dread, and see thy will be bare
>From all effects whom vice hath ever spotted.
Thyself content with that is thee assigned,
And use it well that is to thee allotted,
Then seek no more out of thyself to find
The thing that thou hast sought so long before,
For thou shalt find it sitting in thy mind.
Mad, if ye list to continue your sore,
Let present pass, and gape on time to come,
And deep yourself in travail more
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

4:16 min read

Sir Thomas Wyatt

Sir Thomas Wyatt was a 16th-century English politician, ambassador, and lyric poet credited with introducing the sonnet to English literature. more…

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