An Epistolary Project

letters to a reader, unknown

Tag: allotments

Poetry and Rats

I recently discovered the poetry of Christopher Logue, in particular, his re-imagined account of Homer’s Illiad. While writing my allotment diary and thinking about a short post for our growing blog, HortusLudi, I coincidentally found this short poem by Logue. It is both a plea and a threat, reflecting our own intimate relationship with these ubiquitous rodents, over time. I’ve re-blogged that post.


We’ve been tidying up on our allotment, repairing beds, mulching and covering to warm the soil for planting, and identifying where the rats have their nests, ready for some serious clearance work next month. I suspect rats have nests on most plots, so clearing them from our allotment probably just makes space for a different group of rats to move in, and prompts a Spring Progress across the site.

The other day I came across this piece  by that wonderful poet, Christopher Logue, a rather one-sided plea to a rat to leave and ‘visit’ the neighbours’ house:

Rat, O Rat…

never in all my life have I seen
as handsome a rat as you.
Thank you for noticing my potatoes.

O Rat, I am not rich.
I left you a note concerning potatoes,
but I see that I placed it too high
and you could not read it.

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To a Rat

The builders are busily reconstructing the house next door, repairing the devastation the last owner wreaked on his grandmother’s home. Last time we lived near a house in transition, we ended up with rats under the floorboards as they fled the disruption. I note the experience with caution, but judge the lack of food next door would reduce the likelihood of rat infestation. However, we are still intimately acquainted with Rattus Norvegicus on our allotment; we think they nest under our shed; they definitely dig tunnels into our compost bin in winter. They cause a nuisance, but, by digging out the compost & spreading it around the bins, they act as feral compost turners. We then collect & return the scattered peelings & onion skins to the bins, along with soil & leaves.

Humanity’s perpetual battle of attrition with rats came to mind when I read a poem from the trenches of the 1st World War. It seemed to echo the futility of our small struggles, but against a more sinister & tragic backdrop, a much greater forlornness:

To a Rat

Caught on a piece of wire in a communications trench 4.45 a.m. April 1916

Was it for this you came into the light?
Have you fulfilled Life’s mission? You are free
For evermore from toil and misery,
Yet those who snared you, to their great delight,
Thought doubtless they were doing right
In scheming to encompass your decease,
Forgetting they were bringing you to peace
And perfect joy and everlasting night.
Your course is ended here — I know not why
You seemed a loathsome, a pernicious creature;
You couldn’t clothe us and we couldn’t eat yer,
And so we mocked your humble destiny —
Yet life was merry, was it not, oh rat?
It must have been to one so sleek and fat.

William Eric Berridge

Lt W E Berridge, 6th Battallion The Somerset Light Infantry,
killed in the Battle of the Somme, Delville Wood, 20 August 1916, aged 22.

quoted From: Anthem for Doomed Youth; Poets of the Great War, edited & introduced by Lyn Macdonald,
The Folio Society: London(2000).

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