The Mouse’s Petition (1773)

Anna Laetitia Barbauld

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Oh, hear a pensive captive’s prayer,
For liberty that sighs,
And never let thine heart be shut
Against the prisoner’s cries!

For here forlorn and sad I sit,
Within the wiry grate,
And tremble at the approaching morn
Which brings impending fate.

If e’er thy breast with freedom glowed,
And spurned a tyrant’s chain,
Let not thy strong oppressive force
A free-born mouse detain!

Oh, do not stain with guiltless blood
Thy hospitable hearth,
Nor triumph that thy wiles betrayed
A prize so little worth.

The scattered gleanings of a feast
My scanty meals supply –
But if thine unrelenting heart
That slender boon deny,

The cheerful light, the vital air,
Are blessings widely given;
Let Nature’s commoners enjoy
The common gifts of Heaven.

The well-taught philosophic mind
To all compassion gives;
Casts round the world an equal eye,
And feels for all that lives.

If mind, as ancient sages taught,
A never-dying flame,
Still shifts through matter’s varying forms,
In every form the same,

Beware, lest in the worm you crush,
A brother’s soul you find;
And tremble lest thy luckless hand
Dislodge a kindred mind.

Or, if this transient gleam of day
Be all of life we share,
Let pity plead within thy breast
That little all to spare.

So may thy hospitable board
With health and peace be crowned,
And every charm of heartfelt ease
Beneath thy roof be found.

So when unseen destruction lurks,
Which mice like men may share,
May some kind angel clear thy path,
And break the hidden snare.