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Short poem

Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542)

Of the Mean and Sure Estate

              1   My mother's maids, when they did sew and spin,
              2They sang sometime a song of the field mouse,
              3That, for because her livelood was but thin,

              4   Would needs go seek her townish sister's house.
              5She thought herself endurèd too much pain;
              6The stormy blasts her cave so sore did souse

              7   That when the furrows swimmèd with the rain,
              8She must lie cold and wet in sorry plight;
              9And worse than that, bare meat there did remain

            10   To comfort her when she her house had dight;
            11Sometime a barley corn; sometime a bean;
            12For which she laboured hard both day and night

            13   In harvest time whilst she might go and glean;
            14And where store was stroyèd with the flood,
            15Then well away! for she undone was clean.

            16   Then was she fain to take instead of food
            17Sleep, if she might, her hunger to beguile.
            18"My sister," quod she, "hath a living good,

            19   And hence from me she dwelleth not a mile.
            20In cold and storm she lieth warm and dry
            21In bed of down; the dirt doth not defile

            22   Her tender foot, she laboureth not as I.
            23Richly she feedeth and at the richman's cost,
            24And for her meat she needs not crave nor cry.

            25   By sea, by land, of the delicates, the most
            26Her cater seeks, and spareth for no peril.
            27She feedeth on boiled bacon meet and roast,

            28   And hath thereof neither charge nor travail;
            29And when she list, the liquor of the grape
            30Doth glad her heart till that her belly swell."

            31   And at this journey she maketh but a jape;
            32So forth she goeth, trusting of all this wealth
            33With her sister her part so for to shape,

            34   That if she might keep herself in health,
            35To live a lady while her life doth last.
            36And to the door now is she come by stealth,

            37   And with her foot anon she scrapeth full fast.
            38Th' other for fear durst not well scarce appear,
            39Of every noise so was the wretch aghast.

            40   At last she askèd softly who was there.
            41And in her language, as well as she could,
            42"Peep!" quod the other. "Sister, I am here."

            43   "Peace," quod the towny mouse, "why speakest thou so loud?"
            44And by the hand she took her fair and well.
            45"Welcome," quod she, "my sister, by the Rood!"

            46   She feasted her, that joy it was to tell
            47The fare they had; they drank the wine so clear,
            48And as to purpose now and then it fell,

            49   She cheerèd her with "How, sister, what cheer!"
            50Amids this joy befell a sorry chance,
            51That, well away! the stranger bought full dear

            52   The fare she had, for, as she look askance,
            53Under a stool she spied two steaming eyes
            54In a round head with sharp ears. In France

            55   Was never mouse so fear'd, for the unwise
            56Had not i-seen such a beast before,
            57Yet had nature taught her after her guise

            58   To know her foe and dread him evermore.
            59The towny mouse fled, she know whither to go;
            60Th' other had no shift, but wonders sore

            61   Feard of her life. At home she wished her tho,
            62And to the door, alas! as she did skip,
            63The Heaven it would, lo! and eke her chance was so,

            64   At the threshold her silly foot did trip;
            65And ere she might recover it again,
            66The traitor cat had caught her by the hip,

            67   And made her there against her will remain,
            68That had forgotten her poor surety and rest
            69For seeming wealth wherein she thought to reign.

            70   Alas, my Poynz, how men do seek the best
            71And find the worst, by error as they stray!
            72And no marvail; when sight is so opprest.

            73   And blind the guide; anon out of the way
            74Goeth guide and all in seeking quiet life.
            75O wretched minds, there is no gold that may

            76   Grant that ye seek; no war, no peace, no strife.
            77No, no, although thy head were hooped with gold,
            78Sergeant with mace, hawbert, sword, nor knife,

            79   Cannot repulse the care that follow should.
            80Each kind of life hath with him his disease.
            81Live in delight even as thy lust would,

            82   And thou shalt find, when lust doth most thee please,
            83It irketh straight and by itself doth fade.
            84A small thing it is that may thy mind appease.

            85   None of ye all there is that is so mad
            86To seek grapes upon brambles or breres;
            87Nor none, I trow, that hath his wit so bad

            88   To set his hay for conies over rivers,
            89Ne ye set not a drag-net for an hare;
            90And yet the thing that most is your desire

            91   Ye do mis-seek with more travail and care.
            92Make plain thine heart, that it be not knotted
            93With hope or dread, and see thy will be bare

            94   From all affects, whom vice hath ever spotted.
            95Thyself content with that is thee assigned,
            96And use it well that is to thee allotted.

            97   Then seek no more out of thyself to find
            98The thing that thou hast sought so long before,
            99For thou shalt feel it sitting in thy mind.

          100   Mad, if ye list to continue your sore,
          101Let present pass and gape on time to come,
          102And deep yourself in travail more and more.

          103   Henceforth, my Poynz, this shall be all and some,
          104These wretched fools shall have nought else of me;
          105But to the great God and to his high doom,

          106   None other pain pray I for them to be,
          107But when the rage doth lead them from the right,
          108That, looking backward, Virtue they may see,

          109   Even as she is, so goodly fair and bright;
          110And whilst they clasp their lusts in arms across,
          111Grant them, good Lord, as Thou mayst of Thy might
          112To fret inward for losing such a loss.


1] The source of the poem is an elaboration of Horace's fable of the town mouse and the country mouse in Satires, II, vi.

Little is known of John Poins escept that he belonged to an Essex family of distinction.

3] livelood: livelihood, sustenance, food.

5] endurèd: Egerton MS "endured".

7] swimmèd: Egerton MS "swimmed".

9] bare meat: plain food (not necessarily cooked flesh).

10] dight: made.

14] stroyèd: Egerton MS "stroyed".

15] clean: entirely.

16] was she fain to: she had to.

18] hath a living good: makes a good living.

25] delicates: dainties.

26] cater: buyer of provisions.

27] boiled bacon meet and roast: "bacon" or possibly "baken" ("baked"); Tottel has "boyle meat, bake meat, and rost".

31] maketh but a jape: makes light of ("jape" can mean "something to laugh at").

40] askèd: Egerton MS has "asked".

45] by the Rood: by Christ's cross

48] to purpose: opportunely.

49] cheerèd: Egerton has "cheered".

53] steaming: gleaming O.K. ste'man, to gleam).

55] the unwise: reading from Arundel MS and Tottel (meeting the required rhyme); Egerton MS has "tho".

56] i-seen: the prefix i- or y- was used in the M.E. past participle.

60] no shift: no (escape) plan.

61] tho: then.

64] silly: weak, foolish.

66] caught her by the hip: not necessarily literal because proverbial (Tilley H474), "had her at a disadvantage."

68] poor surety: the security afforded by poverty.

78] hawbert: halberd, a hybrid axe-spear.

80] disease: comfort, down-side

81] lust: desire, appetites.

83] irketh: annoys.

86] Proverbial (Tilley G411).

88] set: Arundel MS; Egerton has "se".
hay: snare, net.
conies: rabbits.

94] affects: passions, lusts.

101] gape: fix your eyes on.

103] all and some: the sum total.

105] doom: judgment.

110] lusts: desires.

112] losing such a loss: losing (Virtue, by folding their lusts instead in their "arms").

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: British Library Egerton MS. 2711, fol. 50v-52v; cf. Richard Harrier, Canon (1975): 174-78.
First publication date: 1557
RPO poem editor: N. J. Endicott, Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RP 1935: I.81 (N. J. Endicott); RPO 1996 (IL).
Recent editing: 2:2002/5/1

Form: Terza rima
Rhyme: aba bcb cdc ded ...
Form note: The form is the same as in Dante's Divine Comedy.

Other poems by Sir Thomas Wyatt