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Featured Poem: From The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning

Written by The Reader, 3rd September 2012

This week's Featured Poem selection comes from Amanda Boston, Get Into Reading Wirral Young People Project Worker, who has revisited a childhood favourite into her Get Into Reading groups...

This is probably one of the most famous stories, or “my ditty” as Browning calls it, in all of literature. It certainly contains some of the most memorable lines. I absolutely guarantee that someone in your reading group, at your bus stop, on your train or at your supermarket checkout will subliminally know the following:

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...

I can almost hear you chanting this already. To be honest, I don’t recall re-reading this wonderful poem since my childhood and I hadn’t considered reading it in a Get Into Reading group, dismissing it as 'for children'. This all changed when I was appointed Reader-in-Residence at a primary school in Wallasey. I had started a family reading group. It contained six mums, a granddad and their eight children aged 5 to 8. In my search for material to read with them all I borrowed a set of wonderfully illustrated copies of Browning’s classic from the school library service. The sessions when we read the poem aloud - sometimes taking it in turns, sometimes as one voice, sometimes quietly, sometimes raucously - remain amongst the most memorable in my ten years with Get Into Reading.

The most poignant moment came when we read about the fate of the lame boy who was denied entry to “a joyous land”. The section begins:

When, lo,as they reached the mountainside,
A wondrous portal opened wide,
As if a cavern was suddenly hollowed;
And the piper advanced and the children followed,

The children, none of whom knew the story, were gripped by the image and in the thrall of the piper, the urgent rhythm and irresistible rhyme. They were ready to enter the portal and leave their parents in the room. They were not ready, however, for the lame boy to be denied access.

And found myself outside the hill,
Left alone against my will.
To go now limping as before,
And never hear of that country more!

There was a long silence as we all digested the import of his lament. Then one of the children, on the verge of tears, expressed what we were all thinking “That’s not fair!”

I have subsequently read The Pied Piper of Hamelin with a range of groups and all have reacted movingly to 'A Child’s Story'.

From The Pied Piper of Hamelin


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
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,
And, like fowls in a farm-yard 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,
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
To the children merrily skipping by,
— 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,
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,
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!”
When, 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.
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, —
“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,
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 then peacocks here,
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,
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!”

Robert Browning


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