Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Germany
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Germany: Vols. XVII–XVIII.  1876–79.
 
Hameln
The Pied Piper of Hamelin
Robert Browning (1812–1889)
 
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;        5
But, when begins my ditty,
  Almost five hundred years ago,
  To see the townsfolk suffer so
    From vermin, was a pity.
 
    Rats!        10
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,        15
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.        20
 
At last the people in a body
  To the Town Hall came flocking:
“’T is clear,” cried they, “our Mayor ’s a noddy;
  And as for our Corporation,—shocking
To think we buy gowns lined with ermine        25
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        30
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 counsel,        35
  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        40
I ’ve scratched it so, and all in vain.
O 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?”        45
(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        50
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:        55
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,        60
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        65
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:        70
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!        75
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        80
A scarf of red and yellow stripe,
To match with his coat of the selfsame check;
And at the scarf’s end hung a pipe;
And his fingers, they noticed, were ever straying
As if impatient to be playing        85
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 swarms of gnats;        90
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?”        95
“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        100
  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;        105
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.        110
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,        115
  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,        120
Until they came to the river Weser
Wherein all plunged and perished,
Save one, who, stout as Julius Cæsar,
Swam across and lived to carry
(As he the manuscript he cherished)        125
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;        130
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        135
(Sweeter far than by harp or by psaltery
Is breathed) called out, O rats, rejoice!
The world is grown to one vast drysaltery!
So munch on, crunch on, take your nuncheon,
Breakfast, supper, dinner, luncheon!        140
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.”        145
 
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,        150
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;        155
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.        160
To pay this sum to a wandering fellow
With a gypsy 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,        165
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        170
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,        175
I ’ve promised to visit by dinner-time
Bagdat, and accept the prime
Of the head cook’s pottage, all he ’s rich in,
For having left, in the Caliph’s kitchen,
Of a nest of scorpions no survivor,—        180
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 to another fashion.”
 
“How?” cried the Mayor, “d’ ye think I ’ll brook        185
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!”        190
 
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        195
  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;        200
And, like fowls in a farmyard 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,        205
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        210
To the children merrily skipping by,
And 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,        215
As the Piper turned from the High Street
To where the Weser rolled its waters
Right in the way of their sons and daughters!
However, he turned from south to west,
And to Koppelberg Hill his steps addressed,        220
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!”        225
 
When, lo! as they reached the mountain’s 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,        230
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,—        235
“It ’s dull in our town since my playmates left!
I can’t forget that I ’m bereft
Of all the pleasant sights they see,
Which the Piper also promised me;
For he led us, he said, to a joyous land,        240
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,        245
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,        250
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!”        255
 
Alas! alas for Hamelin!
  There came into many a burgher’s pate
  A text which says, that Heaven’s gate
  Opes to the rich at as easy rate
As the needle’s eye takes a camel in!        260
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 heart’s content,
If he ’d only return the way he went,        265
  And bring the children behind him.
But when they saw ’t was a lost endeavor,
And Piper and dancers were gone forever,
They made a decree that lawyers never
  Should think their records dated duly        270
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”:        275
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.        280
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        285
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        290
Of alien people that 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        295
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        300
Of scores out with all men, especially pipers;
And, whether they pipe us free fróm rats or fróm mice,
If we ’ve promised them aught, let us keep our promise.
 
 
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