Of the Mean and Sure Estate

Original Text: 
British Library Egerton MS. 2711, fol. 50v-52v; cf. Richard Harrier, Canon (1975): 174-78.
2They sang sometime a song of the field mouse,
4   Would needs go seek her townish sister's house.
6The stormy blasts her cave so sore did souse
8She must lie cold and wet in sorry plight;
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;
17Sleep, if she might, her hunger to beguile.
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.
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."
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.
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.
46   She feasted her, that joy it was to tell
47The fare they had; they drank the wine so clear,
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,
54In a round head with sharp ears. In France
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;
62And to the door, alas! as she did skip,
63The Heaven it would, lo! and eke her chance was so,
65And ere she might recover it again,
67   And made her there against her will remain,
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,
79   Cannot repulse the care that follow should.
82   And thou shalt find, when lust doth most thee please,
84A small thing it is that may thy mind appease.
85   None of ye all there is that is so mad
87Nor none, I trow, that hath his wit so bad
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
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,
102And deep yourself in travail more and more.
104These wretched fools shall have nought else of me;
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;
111Grant them, good Lord, as Thou mayst of Thy might


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. Back to Line

3] livelood: livelihood, sustenance, food. Back to Line
5] endurèd: Egerton MS "endured". Back to Line
7] swimmèd: Egerton MS "swimmed". Back to Line
9] bare meat: plain food (not necessarily cooked flesh). Back to Line
10] dight: made. Back to Line
14] stroyèd: Egerton MS "stroyed". Back to Line
15] clean: entirely. Back to Line
16] was she fain to: she had to. Back to Line
18] hath a living good: makes a good living. Back to Line
25] delicates: dainties. Back to Line
26] cater: buyer of provisions. Back to Line
27] boiled bacon meet and roast: "bacon" or possibly "baken" ("baked"); Tottel has "boyle meat, bake meat, and rost". Back to Line
31] maketh but a jape: makes light of ("jape" can mean "something to laugh at"). Back to Line
40] askèd: Egerton MS has "asked". Back to Line
45] by the Rood: by Christ's cross Back to Line
48] to purpose: opportunely. Back to Line
49] cheerèd: Egerton has "cheered". Back to Line
53] steaming: gleaming O.K. ste'man, to gleam). Back to Line
55] the unwise: reading from Arundel MS and Tottel (meeting the required rhyme); Egerton MS has "tho". Back to Line
56] i-seen: the prefix i- or y- was used in the M.E. past participle. Back to Line
60] no shift: no (escape) plan. Back to Line
61] tho: then. Back to Line
64] silly: weak, foolish. Back to Line
66] caught her by the hip: not necessarily literal because proverbial (Tilley H474), "had her at a disadvantage." Back to Line
68] poor surety: the security afforded by poverty. Back to Line
78] hawbert: halberd, a hybrid axe-spear. Back to Line
80] disease: comfort, down-side Back to Line
81] lust: desire, appetites. Back to Line
83] irketh: annoys. Back to Line
86] Proverbial (Tilley G411). Back to Line
88] set: Arundel MS; Egerton has "se".
hay: snare, net.
conies: rabbits. Back to Line
94] affects: passions, lusts. Back to Line
101] gape: fix your eyes on. Back to Line
103] all and some: the sum total. Back to Line
105] doom: judgment. Back to Line
110] lusts: desires. Back to Line
112] losing such a loss: losing (Virtue, by folding their lusts instead in their "arms"). Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott; Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RP 1935: I.81 (N. J. Endicott); RPO 1996 (IL).