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).