Gateway to the Classics: For the Children's Hour by Carolyn S. Bailey
For the Children's Hour by  Carolyn S. Bailey

The Cricket and the Poet

T HERE was, once upon a time, a poet who was able to sing most wonderful songs and play most wonderful music upon his lyre. It seemed as if there were none other, in the whole land, able to make such sweet sounds. So, one day, the wisest judges met and sent for the poet to bring his lyre and sing and play before them, that they might know for themselves if he deserved a prize.

It was out of doors, near the fields and meadows, where he was to play for them, and there were a great many judges there to listen:

"Judges able, I should mention,

To detect the slightest sound

Sung, or played amiss: such ears

Had old judges, it appears!"

But the poet sang out boldly and played in time and tune. It seemed as if one were listening to the sound of bird-songs, and the wind in the trees, and the rippling of brooks, and the slow flowing of rivers. The judges shook their gray heads and leaned closer to listen, but they could hear no discords. They were ready to smile and say: "In vain one tries picking flaws out; take the prize!"

But, who would have guessed such ill-luck was in store? There were seven strings upon the lyre which the poet touched so gently to make his wonderful music, and, all at once, "one of those same seven strings snapped!"

"All was lost then! No! a cricket—

Some mad thing that left its thicket

For mere love of music—flew,

With its little heart on fire,

Lighted on the crippled lyre."

And when the poet felt for the poor broken string and tried to play the note he wished, and could not—

"What does cricket else, but fling

Fiery heart forth, sound the note

Wanted by the throbbing throat?"

So the little cricket chirped on and on, to the very ending. And the music was more wonderful than any the poet had ever played or sung before. The cricket could sing of the wild, out-of-door things in the fields and the meadows; she knew the sound of the raindrops pattering on the grass; the trill of the locust; she could chirp a little dance tune which made the jerboa come out of his hole to listen. All these things did the music tell, and more; and the cricket, "with her chirrup, low and sweet, saved the poet from defeat."

"The prize shall be yours," cried all the judges when the poet ceased his playing. "We thought your lyre was a harp."

The cricket leaped down again to the bushes, and the judges' eyes were too old for them to see, and their ears had been, after all, too dull for them to know how a little cricket had helped the poet. But the poet did not forget.

"Some record there must be," he said, "of this cricket's help to me."

So he carved from beautiful white marble a statue of a poet standing as he had stood before the judges, and it was as large and as tall as a man. In its hand there was a lyre with one broken string, and upon the string perched the little cricket, "his partner in the prize."

"Nevermore apart you found

Her he throned, from him she crowned."

— From the Epilogue to Browning's
"Two Poets of Croisic,"
Adapted by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey

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