One fine morning two small mice,
Much against their friend's advice,
Visited a room where grain
Undisturbed for months had lain.
Other mice had entered; none
Lived to eat and tell--not one.
But the two friends, unpoliced,
Broke in and began to feast;
And their laughter fell and rose,
Till their blood with horror froze.
Gold and shiny, vicious, long,
Venom-fanged, hypnotic, strong--
Slid a snake towards the pair,
Swallowed one right then and there,
Hissed obscenely at the other:
"That's the first; and here's another!"
And, when she stood shocked and still,
Sprang at once to make his kill.
Glared at him, and twitched her nose.
Every time he slid or sprang,
Dripping venom from each fang,
Out beyond his reach she leapt,
Till the snake, grown tired, crept
To his hole, slid first his head,
Then his gleaming, overfed
Trunk in, so that just his tail
Jutted out to thrash and flail.
Swift as rage the little mouse
Rushed towards the killer's house,
Bit his tail once, twice, again,
Clung to it till, wild with pain,
Hissing wrath, the snake backed out,
Swerved his body round about,
Lunged towards the mouse and tried
Swallowing her--but she leapt wide
Every time he lunged, till he,
Wriggling back exhaustedly,
Slid inside his hole once more.
Then, exactly as before,
Down she clamped with might and main
On his tail till, mad with pain,
Yet again the snake emerged.
This the battle ebbed and surged
And the mouse fought on and on
Till her strength was almost gone
--When the snake, without a sound,
Spat the dead mouse on the ground,
And, with mangled slither, stole
Unopposed into his hole.
Then the mouse came up and cried
Bitter tears for her who'd died.
Squeaking sadly, and bereft,
Corpse in mouth, she sobbed and left.
This was seen by Mr. Yang.
When his friend the poet Chang
Heard the mouse's story later,
Eager to commemorate her,
As he walked back to his house,
He composed "The Faithful Mouse"--
Where in elegiac metre
He extols the Snake-Defeater
And in couplets sad and stoic
Celebrates her acts heroic--
Acts that prove that shock and pain,
Death and grief are not in vain--
Which fine lines, alive or dead,
Neither of the mice has read.
From "Beastly Tales From Here and There" by Vikram Seth (HarperCollins: $15).
1994 Reprinted by permission.