Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. IX. Tragedy: Humor
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume IX. Tragedy: Humor.  1904.
 
Poems of Tragedy: IV. Germany
God’s Judgment on a Wicked Bishop
Robert Southey (1774–1843)
 
   [Hatto, Archbishop of Mentz, in the year 914, barbarously murdered a number of poor people to prevent their consuming a portion of the food during that year of famine. He was afterwards devoured by rats in his tower on an island in the Rhine.—OLD LEGEND.]

THE SUMMER and autumn had been so wet,
That in winter the corn was growing yet:
’T was a piteous sight to see all around
The grain lie rotting on the ground.
 
Every day the starving poor        5
Crowded around Bishop Hatto’s door;
For he had a plentiful last-year’s store,
And all the neighborhood could tell
His granaries were furnished well.
 
At last Bishop Hatto appointed a day        10
To quiet the poor without delay;
He bade them to his great barn repair,
And they should have food for the winter there.
 
Rejoiced the tidings good to hear,
The poor folks flocked from far and near;        15
The great barn was full as it could hold
Of women and children, and young and old.
 
Then, when he saw it could hold no more,
Bishop Hatto he made fast the door;
And whilst for mercy on Christ they call,        20
He set fire to the barn, and burnt them all.
 
“I’ faith, ’t is an excellent bonfire!” quoth he;
“And the country is greatly obliged to me
For ridding it, in these times forlorn,
Of rats that only consume the corn.”        25
 
So then to his palace returned he,
And he sate down to supper merrily,
And he slept that night like an innocent man;
But Bishop Hatto never slept again.
 
In the morning, as he entered the hall,        30
Where his picture hung against the wall,
A sweat like death all over him came,
For the rats had eaten it out of the frame.
 
As he looked, there came a man from his farm—
He had a countenance white with alarm:        35
“My lord, I opened your granaries this morn,
And the rats had eaten all your corn.”
 
Another came running presently,
And he was pale as pale could be.
“Fly! my lord bishop, fly!” quoth he,        40
“Ten thousand rats are coming this way,—
The Lord forgive you for yesterday!”
 
“I ’ll go to my tower in the Rhine,” replied he;
“’T is the safest place in Germany,—
The walls are high, and the shores are steep,        45
And the tide is strong, and the water deep.”
 
Bishop Hatto fearfully hastened away;
And he crossed the Rhine without delay,
And reached his tower, and barred with care
All the windows, doors, and loop-holes there.        50
 
He laid him down and closed his eyes,
But soon a scream made him arise;
He started, and saw two eyes of flame
On his pillow, from whence the screaming came.
 
He listened and looked,—it was only the cat;        55
But the bishop he grew more fearful for that,
For she sate screaming, mad with fear,
At the army of rats that were drawing near.
 
For they have swum over the river so deep,
And they have climbed the shores so steep,        60
And now by thousands up they crawl
To the holes and the windows in the wall.
 
Down on his knees the bishop fell,
And faster and faster his beads did he tell,
As louder and louder, drawing near,        65
The saw of their teeth without he could hear.
 
And in at the windows, and in at the door,
And through the walls, by thousands they pour;
And down from the ceiling and up through the floor,
From the right and the left, from behind and before,        70
From within and without, from above and below,—
And all at once to the bishop they go.
 
They have whetted their teeth against the stones,
And now they pick the bishop’s bones;
They gnawed the flesh from every limb,        75
For they were sent to do judgment on him!
 
 
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