William Cowper

The Colubriad

  Close by the threshold of a door, nail'd fast
  Three kittens sat. Each kitten look'd aghast.
  I, passing swift and inattentive by,
  At the three kittens cast a careless eye;
5   Not much concern'd to know what they did there,
  Not deeming kittens worth a poet's care.
  But presently a loud and furious hiss
  Caus'd me to stop, and to exclaim - 'What's this?'
  When lo! upon the threshold met my view
10   With head erect and eyes of fiery hue
  A viper, long as Count de Grasse's queue.
  Forth from his head his forked tongue he throws,
  Darting it full against a kitten's nose;
  Who having never seen in field or house
15   The like, sat still and silent, as a mouse.
  Only, projecting with attention due
  Her whisker'd face, she ask'd him - 'Who are you?'
  On to the hall went I with pace, not slow,
  But swift as lightning, for a long Dutch hoe;
20   With which, well arm'd, I hasten'd to the spot,
  To find the viper. But I found him not,
  And, turning up the leaves and shrubs around,
  Found only, that he was not to be found.
  But still the kittens, sitting, as before,
25   Sat, watching close the bottom of the door.
  'I hope' - (said I) - 'the villain I would kill
  Has slipt between the door and the door's sill;
  And if I make dispatch and follow hard,
  No doubt, but I shall find him in the yard:' -
30   For long ere now it should have been rehears'd,
  'Twas in the garden, that I found him first.
  E'en there I found him. There the full-grown cat
  His head with velvet paw did gently pat,
  As curious as the kittens erst had been
35   To learn what this phenomenon might mean.
  Fill'd with heroic ardour at the sight,
  And fearing every moment he would bite
  And rob our household of our only cat,
  That was of age to combat with a rat,
40   With out-stretch'd hoe I slew him at the door.
  And taught him never to come there no more.

First published 1806

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