1824
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Batrachomyomachia.

Knight's Quarterly Magazine 3 (November 1824) 343-53.

William Maginn


41 Spenserians, possibly by William Maginn who was a knowledgeable classicist with a taste for burlesque verse. The poem is unsigned, and may well be by the "Hamilton Murray" who had translated Longus in Spenserian stanzas in an earlier number.

Author's note: "Somebody blaming metrical translations, I believe Cowper, says that translating in verse is like dancing in fetters; and that therefore the looser the links are made, the more graceful is the motion. This was said to recommend blank verse translations. I differ altogether; if I must dance in fetters, let them 'jingle.' But putting this pun out of the question, and a poor pun it is, it has always struck me that blank verse translations are apt, from the comparative easiness of their metre, to fall into something like plain prose; and that the necessity of rhyme makes the translation, when well done, so much more carefully done, as to resemble better an original poem, than otherwise. Moved by these considerations, and others which there is no need of mentioning, I have done into Spenserian (the most rhyme-demanding of all our stanzas,) the pleasant little mock Homeric poem of the 'Battle of the Frogs and Mice;' and with it the Homeric hymn to Pan, (it is not worth any body's while on this occasion to squabble about authenticity,) treated in a similar fashion" p. 342.

The poem had previously been translated in 75 Prior stanzas by Samuel Wesley the Younger, as "The Iliad in a Nutshell, or Homer's Battle of the Frogs and Mice, illustrated with Notes" (1736).

Oliver Elton: "There is not much satisfaction now to be got from reading Maginn; the effect is that of the morning after the orgy, with the cards lying torn upon the floor, and the overturned tumblers littering the trays" Survey of English Literature 1780-1830 (1912) 1:416.

"The Battle of the Frogs and Mice" had been translated in couplets in the London Magazine (October 1821) 388-93.



Into my soul, fair Heliconian train,
Enter, and fill me with your tuneful quire!
For on my knees my tablets have I ta'en,
To heap them full of strife and tumult dire;
Hear, sons of men! while with poetic fire
I sing how mice the frogs in fight withstood,
Performing deeds of valour in their ire,
That mock'd the achievements of the giant brood:—
As Fame, the story told, thus rose the deadly feud:—

A thirsty mouse, escaping from a cat,
Dipp'd his soft whisker in a neighbouring lake;
Him, while upon its verdant marge he sat,
With its sweet stream his panting thirst to slake,
A croaking native of the pool bespake,
"Who art thou? what thy race? whence hast thou come,
Reply with truth, no fraudful answer make,
For I shall lead thee to my royal dome,
If worthy of my love — and make my house thy home."

"I am the king Physignathus, whose sway
Is own'd through all these waters, high and low;
Me, as their rightful lord, the frogs obey,
And to my sceptre long have loved to bow.
Peleus, the prince to whom my birth I owe,
Wedded his bride Hydromedusa fair,
In amorous transport on the banks of Po;
Thee too, thy vigorous form and lordly air
A sceptre-bearing chief, and warrior tried declare."

So spake the frog. Psicharpax answered "Why
Dost thou inquire my lofty lineage, known
To those who dwell in heaven — in earth — in sky—
To gods — to men — to birds — to every one?
Psicharpax is my name, — and I am son
Of old Troxartas, most magnific mouse,
And sweet Lychomele, who shares his throne,
The pride of Pternotractas' regal house,
Who in a darksome cavern bore me to her spouse.

"She nursed me up with fond maternal care,
And in soft luxury my youth was bred;
Feasted was I on dainties rich and rare,
On figs, and nuts, and cates, delightful fed:
But how can we, Physignathus, who tread
Such different paths, in social concord meet;
You where the lakes their glassy mansions spread
Live mid the waters, while to me 'tis sweet
To dwell with lordly man, and what he eats I eat.

"To me no dainty morsel is unknown,
Not thrice-baked bread in rounded platter laid—
Not wide spread cake with sesame bestrown—
Not livers rich in snow-white fat array'd—
Not slice from gammon cut with trenchant blade-
Not pudding, food for gods immortal fit—
Nor new-pressed cheese from milk delicious made,
Nor aught sage cooks prepare, whose learned wit
Lines the capacious pot with many a luscious bit.

"Nor from the slaughterous combat do I flee,
But bear me bravely in the foremost fight;
Even man himself, vast though his stature be,
Fills not my dauntless bosom with affright.
Into his very bed I march by night,
And seize with nibbling tooth his heel or toe;
He slumbers on, unconscious of the bite,
Nor dreams how near, how desperate is his foe:
Two living things alone can fill my heart with woe.

"The hawk and cat my bosom overawe,
And the grim trap with deadly wiles replete;
But most I dread the cat, whose potent paw
Can drag me trembling from my dark retreat;
Such is my mode of life, I scorn to eat
Parsley, or gourd, or radishes, or kale;
I cannot swallow down your verdant beet,
On which you people in the lake's regale."
He ceased, the frog replied, gay smiling at his tale:

"Stranger, thy paunch supplies thee with a theme
Whereon to boast vain-glorious: yet we have
Many strange things to shew in land and stream;
For Jove to frogs a life amphibious gave,
On earth to gambol, and in lake to lave.
These wouldst thou wish to view, thy course is plain—
Ascend my back, I'll bear thee through the wave;
But clasp me close, that o'er the fluid plain,
In safety and in joy, we may my palace gain."

He spoke and crouched; the mouse, devoid of fear,
Sprung on the proffered back, with active bound,
And while he saw his native harbours near,
Much joy the swimmer in his voyage found;
But when the dark blue waters rose around,
Then terror seized his heart, and sorrow sore;
With copious tear and groan of dolorous sound,
Did he then vainly his rash act deplore,
And oh! how much he wish'd he ne'er had left the shore.

In agony of woe his paunch he smote
With frequent foot, and rooted up his hair;
His tail he spread along the deep to float,
A feeble oar! while many an earnest prayer
He sent to heaven in transport of despair.
"O thus," quoth he, "Europa, lovely load,
Did the famed bull from Crete through ocean bear,
As this frog bears me to his dark abode,
Raising my body pale above the watery road."

Sudden appear'd a water-snake, dread sight!—
Above the wave his neck rose, stiff and high—
Down duck'd the frog, forgetting in his fright
That he had left his luckless friend to die;
Down to the utmost depth he sunk, thereby
'Scaping black death, while his forsaken friend
Forced on the fatal wave supine to lie,
Wringing his hands, bemoaned his life's sad end,
While screams of hopeless grief he vainly forth did send.

Often he sank, and raised himself as oft
With vigorous kick, but he was doomed by fate;
He perished, by his hairy mantle soft
Borne down with weight of waters saturate;
He perished in the waves, in words of hate
The frog denouncing ere he breathed his last;
"You shall not 'scape Heaven's vengeance; soon or late
This deed perfidious towards your friend will blast,
Whom shipwreck'd from your back, as from a rock, you cast.

"Coward! on land, my power you could not beat
In boxing, wrestling, racing; but when here,
Here to this lake you drew me by deceit,
By fraud you laid me on this watery bier.
God hath a vengeful eye! the day is near
When all the host of mice in arms allied,
Shall claim, nor shall you shun it, vengeance drear."
Thus died the mouse. Lichepinan espied
The deed as he reclined upon the bank's soft side.

Loudly he scream'd, and ran the mice to tell
How he had seen their prince's hapless fall;
When heard, each bosom heaved with angry swell,
And all in haste, they bade their herald call,
By morning dawn, a council in the hall
Of old Troxartas, sire of him who lay
Dead, floating on mid lake in sight of all,
From the bank's friendly shelter far away,
Toss'd on the fatal waves above the billowy spray.

At daybreak hastening, they arrived, and first
Troxartas rose in mourning for his son;
"Friends, though on me alone this woe has burst,
Yet general wrong to all our tribe is done.
Wretch that I am, my three brave sons are gone;
My eldest offspring by the cat's curst claws,
Outside his hole surprised, to death was done;
My next was sent to Oren's dismal jaws,
Snared in a trap, devised by men our griefs to cause.

"My last, my loved, his mother's joy and mine,
The frog has smother'd in the deep-sunk lake:
Haste then, ye brave; in arms of warlike shine
Sheath'd, let us 'gainst this foe our onset make."
Desire of contest seized them as he spake.
By Mars himself were they in arms bedight;
First, for their greaves, the bean-stalk green they brake,
Which they had gnaw'd down featly in the night;
And on their taper legs now fitted trim and light.

Corslets of skin, soon from a cat they flay'd,
Bedeck'd them, fring'd and fasten'd all with reeds;
A sconce's middle boss their breastplates made;
Their spears were needles form'd for martial deeds;
Then helm'd in nut-shells, all the host proceeds
Arm'd for the fight — nor were the frogs afar:
Forth from the lake they issued to the meads,
And held a council, how to meet the war,
Much pond'ring in their minds how rose this hostile jar.

While thus intent, a sacred herald came,
Embasichytius, son of that famed chief,
Who, from cheese-scooping, won his well-earn'd name;
And thus, he spoke all Mouseland's ire and grief:—
"Frogs! from the mire I come, to say in brief,
That we defy you to the battle plain,
We've seen Psicharpax drown'd, whom, past relief,
Your king, Physignathus, has foully slain;
We to the combat dare the bravest of your train."

He spoke — and vanish'd; but his challenge claim'd
Anxious attention from the frogs at large.
Strait rose the prince, while all his action blam'd:—
"I slew him not, nor saw him die, the charge
Is false, my friends; he left his native marge
Of this our lake and tried to sport like us,
Sporting he died: but let us now discharge
This slanderous stigma hurled against me thus,
All blameless as I am, and points of war discuss.

"How shall we face in fight the treacherous mice
I shall declare what plan I think the best:
Let all our force, such is your king's advice,
Rank'd for the fight, in martial armour drest,
On the high lands, which bound the water's breast,
Stand there where most the rugged bank is steep.
Then let each frog, fast by the helmet crest,
Seize on a mouse, and, with a vigorous sweep,
Down plunge him, with his arms, into the fatal deep.

"There let them smother — and the battle won,
We'll raise a trophy o'er our slaughter'd foes."
They heard the speech, and straight their arms they don.
Marsh-mallow leaves their nimble legs, enclose;
The broad green beets their corslets stout compose;
The cabbage leaf supplies their well-form'd shields;
Each head a snail-shell for a helmet shows,
And, for a lance, each hand a bulrush wields;
Thus were they harnessed all, for deeds in battle fields.

On the high bank they stood with quivering lance,
And full of fury was each warrior's soul.
They did not 'scape great Jove's all-seeing glance
The gods he summon'd to the starry pole,
And show'd the hosts as on to fight they roll.
He show'd their spear-arm'd ranks, their crowds, their size
Awful as centaurs, or the impious shoal
Of earth-born giants famed for bold emprize;
Then, with a smile, out spake the monarch of the skies.

Fair wisdom's queen he asked, in jocund strain,
"Say, daughter, wilt thou now thy aid prepare
To give the mice, who gambol round thy fane,
Pleased with the scent of sacrificial fare."
"Never," quoth she, "shall they my favour share,
E'en though they seek it in extremest need
Because my garlands they presume to tear,
And on my consecrated oil to feed;
And still more wrath I feel at a more daring deed:

"My robe, on which my hands such toil had spent,
Spinning and weaving, thread and web, the mice
Nibbled and tore, and filled with many a rent,
Which to repair, a tailor's finger nice
Required; who charged me most usurious price.
The sum it cost was borrow'd, nor, as yet,
Back to repay it do my funds suffice.
Have not the mice then given me cause to fret?
But neither shall I aid the host against them set.

"Rash tribe, who, when I seek the aid of sleep,
Returning home by deeds of arms o'er-worn,
Make such a constant clamour, that they keep
Me sleepless till the cock proclaims the morn;
While my poor head with racking pain is torn,
And not a wink is granted to my eyes.
Now in this contest let no part be borne
By any god. The natives of the skies
Might smart beneath the spear of these stern enemies.

"Their warlike souls fear not opposing gods:
Here rather let us, seated, be content
To view the combat from our blest abodes:"
She spoke, and all Olympus gave assent;
Meanwhile the foes, on mutual slaughter bent,
Met in the field. Two sacred heralds gave
Signal of fight: the clanging trumpet sent
(Blown by loud gnats) its music for the brave,
And Jove announced the war, thund'ring from heav'n's concave.

Hypsiboas struck Lichenor with his spear,
A warrior standing in the foremost rank;
Through paunch and liver urged in full career,
The lance drove through, and prone the warrior sank,
His soft locks soiling on the dusty bank.
Next Pelion 'neath Troglodytes lay dead—
Fix'd in his heart the spear his life-blood drank;
Black night his failing vision overspread,
And from his falling limbs his parting spirit fled.

Senthaeus pierced Embasilchytrus' heart;
And next the paunch of Polyphonus through,
Artophogus transpierc'd his deadly dart.
This chanced while stood Limnochasis in view,
Who instant to avenge the warrior flew;
Against Troglodytes a millstone vast
He flung, and with that blow the mouse he slew,
For on mid-neck lighted the well-aim'd cast,
An unexpected blow — he fell, and breathed his last.

At the victorious frog Lichenor's lance
Was brandish'd, and, not sent with erring arm,
Right through his liver did the weapon glance,
Which filled Cranbophagus with dire alarm,
And to the bank he fled. Behind him warm
In fierce pursuit follow'd Lichenor near,
Not e'en the waves preserved the frog from harm;
He fell, struck breathless by transfixing spear,
And his heart's purple blood distained the waters clear.

The lifeless corse was stretch'd upon the shore;
Its veins and fat intestines all swoln out:
Limnisius slew Tyroglyphus, and bore,
His arms, as trophy of his exploit stout:
O'er Calaminthius' soul pale fear and doubt
Was spread when he Pternoglyphus beheld—
Dropping his shield he fled in shameful rout,
A needless panic, for that foe was fell'd
Meanwhile, and his bruised brains out of his nostrils well'd.

That blow Hydrochasis had dealt, a stone
Monstrous upraising, 'gainst the monarch's head
The earth around with brains and blood was strown;
And soon Borborocates join'd the dead—
Lichopenax the fatal javelin sped,
That closed his blameless eyes; it sore displeased
Prassophagus to see his friend's blood shed,
Cnissodioctes by the foot he seized
And drown'd him in the lake, holding his heel fast squeezed.

Wounded in liver soon Pelucius died,
Killed by Psicharpax, whose sad heart was wrung
With grief for those who perish'd by his side;
Pelobates, in turn, indignant flung
A mass of mud, which, to the forehead clung
Of bold Psicharpax, almost struck him blind:
The mouse, his spirit by the insult stung,
Seized a huge stone, the hugest he could find,
A burden to the earth on which its weight reclined.

With this he struck the frog below the knees;
The dexter leg was smashed beneath the blow;
Supine he fell, his friend Craugasides
Advanced to shield him helpless from his foe;
He smote Psicharpax on the paunch below;
And drove his spear far in with vigorous push—
Out came the bowels in disgusting flow,
Forced by the wound upon the ground to gush,
While he was dragg'd along clung to the dolorous rush.

Limping, from war Sitophagus retired:
When from the river bank this strife he view'd,
His grievous wounds a rest from war required;
He, leapt into the ditch, and death eschewed.
Against Physignathus Troxartas stood,
And smote his son's destroyer on the foot,
He, wounded, sought the lake, intent on blood,
The mouse fled after him in hot pursuit,
While he kept stumbling on, maimed, and half dead, to boot.

Prassaeus saved him in this piteous plight,
Against the mouse hurling the lance amain;
But yet he could not pierce the buckler bright,
And the spear point just struck on it in vain.
By the lake-side a youth of noble strain,
Well skilled in war, Artepibulus' son,
A very Mars, 'mong all the warlike train,
Of mice unequalled, by the title known
Of Meridarpax bold, now spoke, in haughty tone,

Threatening, and sure he could his threat perform,
To blot from earth, for ay, the froggish race
Had not great Jove himself th' impending storm
Averted, moved with pity at their case.
Alas! quoth he, before my very face
A dreadful deed this mouse prepares to do,
Vowing with horrid aspect to erase
His croaking foes, I tremble at the view—
Haste, Mars and Pallas, haste, lest worst deeds should ensue.

Lady and lord of battles, haste to foil
The o'erweening valour of this champion bold.
He ceased, but Mars at once refused the toil;
Nor she, nor I, albeit, of godlike mould,
Can now destruction from the frogs withhold;
It would require all heaven's united force:
Let then thy Titan-killing bolt be rolled,
Which checked Enceladus in impious course,
And 'gainst the giant train was thy most sure resource.

He spoke — and Jove the vivid lightning cast—
Olympus trembled at the thundering sound;
Whirling it came; both armies stood aghast,
While the dread bolt flashed forth with dire rebound;
Yet still the mice undaunted hold the ground,
Still fiercely on their foe's destruction bent.
The frogs again from Jove assistance found,
Else had the mice accomplished their intent,
But he into the field now fresh auxiliars sent.

At his command they entered, anvil-backed,
Crook-clawed, side-waddling, tortuous, shelly-scaled,
Hard-mouthed, broad-shouldered, all of bone compact,
Bandy-legged, shining round their blade-bones mailed,
Besom-eyed, armed with talons strongly nailed,
Right-footed, double-headed, handless (named
Commonly crabs), who, sans delay, assailed
The rearward of the mice, and direly maim'd
Each warrior against whom their fierce attacks were aim'd.

The first assault against their tails were made;
Next feet and hands all unresisting bled;
Quite useless was the spear's once potent blade;
Snapt was the shaft beneath the nippers dread.
A panic terror in a moment spread
Over the host of mice, and all away
Affrighted from the field of fight they fled:
The sun now setting shot his farewell ray—
And the whole war began and ended in one day.

[pp. 343-53]