Personal note: Ashley Bryan had long told of his father making sure Ashley and his siblings would steer clear of selfishness by reading to them an old morals poem from the (at that time) last century, about a mouse who met his ghastly end for refusing to share. I'd asked about that poem, and in May of 1993, about the time I'd finished memorizing the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, he sent me a copy of The Mouse and the Cake. I memorized it, and that summer at Islesford, I went to Ashley's house and found him across the street with Emerson Ham, mulching Emerson's garden. I took the opportunity to loudly recite the poem with Bryan-style expression. Ashley was tickled and joined in, and a good time was had by all!

For Ashley's 98th birthday, I decided to create an illustrated version of the poem, doing image searches for replacements for various words in the text. Going through pages of hundreds of images in search for the right one, or a few candidates for later consideration, was utterly delightful. The only frustration was present by words such as "fate," which it turned out hit upon a female superhero apparently called Fate, so that 99% of the pictures were related to her or her related videos and products. Getting all the images adjusted for resolution and size was a pleasant, if time-consuming occupation of many hours. The results:

The Mouse and the Cake
Eliza Cook, 1818-1889

See also the printable, pocketable PDF
(back to Poetry)

A MOUSE found a beautiful piece of plum cake,
The richest and sweetest that mortal could make;
'Twas heavy with citorn and fragrant with spice,
And covered with sugar all sparkling as ice.

'My stars!' cried the mouse, while his eye beamed with glee,
'Here's a treasure I've found: what a feast it will be;
But, hark! there's a noise, 'tis my brothers at play;
So I'll hide with the cake, lest they wander this way.

'Not a bit shall they have, for I know I can eat
Every morsel myself, and I'll have such a treat.'
So off went the mouse as he held the cake fast;
While his hungry young brothers went scampering past.

He nibbled, and nibbled, and panted, but still
He kept gulping it down till he made himself ill;
Yet he swallowed it all, and 'tis easy to guess,
He was soon so unwell that he groaned with distress.

His family heard him, and as he grew worse,
They sent for the doctor, who made him rehearse,
How he'd eaten the cake to the very last crumb,
Without giving his playmates and relatives some.

'Ah me!' cried the doctor, 'advice is too late;
You must die before long, so prepare for your fate.
If you had but divided the cake with your brothers,
'Twould have done you no harm, and been good for the others.'

'Had you shared it, the treat had been wholesome enough;
But eaten by one, it was dangerous stuff;
So prepare for the worst--; and the word had scarce fled,
When the doctor turned round, and the patient was dead.

Now all little people the lesson may take,
And some large ones may learn from the mouse and the cake;
Not to be over-selfish with what we may gain,
Or the best of our pleasures may turn into pain.

from the Oxford Book of Children's Verses; ed Iona & Peter Opie