Tolkien’s 1923 Poem, “The Cat and the Fiddle”

“The Cat in the Fiddle”

A nursery rhyme untimed and its scandalous secret unlocked

by J.R.R. Tolkien

They say there’s a little crooked inn

behind an old grey hill,

Where they brew a beer so very brown

The man in the moon himself comes down,

And sometimes drinks his fill.

And there the ostler has a cat

Who plays of five-stringed fiddle;

Mine host a little dog so clever

He laughs in any joke whatever,

And sometimes in the middle.

They also keep a horned cow,

To said, with golden hoofs;

But music turns her head like ale,

And makes her way her tufted tail

And dance upon the roofs.

But, O! the row of silver dishes,

And store of silver spoons;

For Sunday there’s a special pair,

And these they polish up with care

On Saturday afternoons

The Man in the Moon had drunk too deep;

The Ostler’s cat was totty;

A dish made love to a Sunday spoon;

The little dog saw all the jokes too soon;

And the cow was dancing dotty.

The man in the moon had another mug

And fell beneath his chair,

And there he called for still more ale,

Though the stars were getting thin and pale,

And the Dawn was on the stair.

The ostler said to his tipsy cat;

“The white horses of the moon,

They neigh and champ their silver bits,

But their masters been and drowned his wits,

And the sun will catch him soon.

Come play on your fiddle a-hey-diddle-diddle,

Twill make him look alive.”

So the cat played a terrible drunken tune,

While the landlord shook the man in the moon

and cried “tis nearly 5!”

They rolled him slowly up the hill

And bundled him in the Moon;

And his horses galloped up in rear,

And the cow came capering like a deer,

And the dish embraced the spoon.

The cat then suddenly changed the tune;

The dog began to roar;

The horses stood upon their heads;

The guests all bounded upon their beds

And danced upon the floor.

The cat broke all his fiddle strings;

The cow jumped over the Moon;

The little dog laughed to see such fun;

In the middle the Sunday dish did run

Away with the Sunday spoon.

Round moon rolled off over the hill —

But only just in time,

For the sun looked up with a fiery head,

And ordered everyone back to bed,

And the ending of the rhyme.

–Tolkien, Yorkshire Poetry 2 (October-November 1923): 1-3.

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