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Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503–42). The Poetical Works. 1880.


Of the mean and sure Estate, written to John Poins

MY mother’s maids, when they do sew and spin,

They sing a song made of the fieldish mouse:

That for because her livelode was but thin,

Would needs go see her townish sister’s house.

She thought herself endured to grievous 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 barley corn, sometime a bean;

For which she laboured hard both day and night,

In harvest time, while she might go and glean.

And when her store was stroyed with the flood,

Then wellaway, for she undone was clean:

Then was she fain to take, instead of food;

Sleep if she might, her hunger to beguile.

‘My sister,’ quod 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; the dirt doth not defile

Her tender foot, she labours not as I.

Richly she feeds, and at the rich man’s cost;

And for her meat she needs not crave nor cry;

By sea, by land, of delicates the most,

Her cater seeks, and spareth for no peril:

She feeds on boil’d meat, baked meat, and roast,

And hath therefore no wit of charge nor travail.

And when she list, the liquor of the grape

Doth glad her heart till that her belly swell.’

And at this journey makes she but a jape,

So forth she goes, trusting of all this wealth

With her Sister her part so for to shape,

That if she might there keep herself in health,

To live a lady, while her life do last.

And to the door now is she come by stealth;

And with her foot anon she scrapes full fast.

Th’ other for fear durst not well scarce appear;

Of every noise so was the wretch aghast.

At last she asked softly who was there;

And in her language as well as she could,

‘Peep,’ quod the other, ‘Sister, I am here.’

‘Peace,’ quod the town-mouse, ‘why speakest thou so loud?’

And by the hand she took her fair and well.

‘Welcome,’ quod she, ‘my Sister, by the rood.’

She feasted her, that joy it was to tell

The fare they had, they drank the wine so clear;

And as to purpose now and then it fell,

So cheered her with, ‘How, Sister, what cheer?’

Amid this joy befell a sorry chance,

That wellaway, the stranger bought full dear

The fare she had. For as she look’d askance,

Under a stool she spied two steaming eyes

In a round head, with sharp ears. In France

Was never mouse so fear’d, for 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 wonders sore;

Fear’d of her life, at home she wished her tho,

And to the door, alas, as she did skip,

The heaven it would, lo, and eke her chance was so

At the threshold her sely 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 forgot her power, surety, and rest,

For seeking wealth, wherein she thought to reign.

Alas, my Poins, how men do seek the best,

And find the worst, by error as they stray;

And no marvel, when sight is so opprest,

And blinds 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 you seek, no war, no peace, no strife:

No, no, although thy head were hoop’d with gold,

Serjeant with mace, with halbert, sword, nor knife,

Cannot repulse the care that follow should.

Each kind of life hath with him his disease:

Live in delights even as thy lust would,

And thou shalt find, when lust doth most thee please,

It irketh straight, and by itself doth fade.

A small thing is it that may thy mind appease?

None of you all there is, that is so mad,

To seek for grapes on brambles or on briers:

Nor none I trow, that hath a wit so bad,

To set his hay for coneys over rivers;

Nor ye set not a drag-net for a hare.

And yet the thing, that most is your desire,

You do mis-seek with more travail and care.

Make plain thine heart, that it be not knotted

With hope or dread, and see thy will be bare

From all affects, whom vice hath never 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 feel it sticking in thy mind.

Made, if ye list to continue your sore,

Let present pass, and gape on time to come,

And deep thyself in travail more and more.

Henceforth, my Poins, this shall be all and sum;

These wretched fools shall have nought else of me;

But, to the great God, and to his doom,

None other pain pray I for them to be;

But when the rage doth lead them from the right,

That looking backward Virtue they may see,

Even as she is, so goodly fair and bright:

And whilst they clasp their lusts in arms across,

Grant them, good Lord, as thou mayst of thy might,

To fret inward, for losing such a loss.