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The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning Analysis

Robert Browning’s poem, ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’ is a children’s story in the form of a poem.

One of Browning’s longest poem, it tells of a story of the town of Hamelin that was over run with rats (if you don’t want the plot to the poem, skip this paragraph). The Pied Piper comes to Hamelin and tells the Mayor that he will get rid of the rats for ‘a thousand guilders’. The Mayor agrees and with the help of his flute and magic, the Pied Piper leads the rats down to the river where they all drown. The town of Hamelin are delightful and spend their money drinking to this victory. They forget to pay the Pied Piper for his work leaving the Pied Piper in a revengeful mood. He lures, just like he did with the rats, the children of the town to the top of a mountain where they miraculously disappear. From this story, the moral of the story is to keep to your promise, just like the town of Hamelin never did.

The Pied Piper can be considered a children’s story for the following reasons:

  • It has a novel (story).
  • The rhythm is even, constant and simple.
  • It is connected to the rhythming doggerel.
  • The poem uses childish vocabulary.
  •  There are elements of the supernatural and magic: it has an unrealistic story.
  • Repetition is used to make describing rats as comical in the second verse and line 111.
Below are all the key points and quotes with explanations for ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’. Feel free to skip to the points most relevant to you.

‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’ Stanza Analysis

Stanza 1

  • The poem’s structure is in chronological order.
  • It uses moments of satire (mocks established conventions and institutions and public figures. In this case, the Major).
  • The setting at the beginning in stanza 1 seems appealing using pretty descriptive adjectives.

Stanza 2

  • Introduces the problem of the rats. The mood changes to mayhem with Browning personifying the rats (anthropomorphism).
  • What the rats did such as, ‘nests inside men’s Sunday’s hats’, would humour children strengthen the point that its a children’s story.
  • Assonance is used (where there is the same vowel sound) with ‘speaking’ and ‘squeaking’.

Stanza 3

  • The town’s people come across not the most intelligent from the colloquial language in stanza 3, ‘noddy’, the informal use of an hyphen, ‘Corporation – shocking’ which creates a sense of tele-graphical speech.
  • More assonance verbs are used alongside colloquial language, ‘lacking’ and ‘packing’. The sharpness of ‘packing’ suggests the anger of the town’s folks. As well as this, we fully gather the people are commoners.

Stanza 4

  • ‘An hour they sat in council, At length the Major broke silence’. It took an hour for anybody to say anything.
  • ‘I’ve scratched it so, and all in vain’. Browning is mocking them here saying that they are stupid and slow.
  • ‘a gentle tap’. This is the first time we hear anything of the Pied Piper. His tap is gentle, soft and quiet which could possibly foreshadow his personality.
  • ‘Looking little though wondrous fat; Nor brighter was his eye, nor moister Than a too-long-opened oyster’. This is a satirical quotation as it mocks the Major’s appearance. It uses the food example to show the Major’s gluttonous.

Stanza 5

  • ‘Looking bigger’. Again, another dig at the Major making it satirical.
  • The first description of the Pied Piper’s appearance occurs. ‘Strangest figure! His queer long coat from heel to head Was half of yellow and half of red, And he himself was tall and thin’.
  • ‘light loose hair, yet swarthy skin’. This highlights that he is dark skin comparing him to a gypsy.
  • ‘kith and kin’. We don’t know where he is from still.
  • ‘walked this way from his painted tombstone!’ The Pied Piper is walking strange and ghost like. He doesn’t seem normal at this point at all.

Stanza 6

  • ‘secret charm’. He is no natural and possesses the power of magic.
  • He uses exotic works to make him look talented and successful such as, ‘creep or swim or fly or run’, and, ‘toad and newt and viper’. This makes him knowledgeable.
  • He speaks about how he eased ‘huge swarms’ and ‘Of a monstrous brood of vampyre-bats’ to make himself sound courageous and accomplished.
  • ‘One, fifty thousand!’ The Major is desperate for him to get rid of the rats.

Stanza 7

  • This stanza is how he works his magic and describes the effect of the magic on the rats.
  • ‘lips he wrinkled…sharp eyes twinkled…a candle-flame where salt is sprinkled’. Pretty language is used making the story even more child-friendly.
  • Browning personifies the pipe, ‘ere three shrill notes the pipe uttered’, creating an idea of magic.
  • ‘And the muttering grew to a grumbling; And the grumbling grew to a might rumbling’. The use of onomatopoeia suggests rat movement.
  • ‘Great rats, small rats, lean rats…’ The use of a list makes it sound like a lot of rats. From this, it is clear the magic the Pied Piper is using is extremely powerful.
  • ‘Grave old plodders, gay young friskers, Fathers, mothers, uncles, cousins…’ Browning is anthropomorphising the rats making the Pied Piper even more influential and powerful that this colony of rats are following him.
  • ‘Wherein all plunged and perished!’ The rats are now suffering which suggests how the villagers have suffered too.
  • The rest of stanza 7 uses the voice of one of the rats. This makes the Pied Piper even more powerful that his magic has the capability to make rats talk.

Stanza 8

  • ‘block up the holes!’ The exclamation suggests the people are in a hurry and panicking.
  • In stanza 8, the Major is telling the villagers ways of stopping the rats from coming back into the village.
  • The Pied Piper wants to be paid for his successful duties, ‘if you please, my thousand guilders!’

Stanza 9

  • ‘Claret, Moselle, Vin-de-Grave, Hock’. The villagers would rather spend the money on alcohol than the Piper illustrating their selfishness.
  • Colloquial language is used further on, ‘And a matter of money to put in your poke’.
  • ‘Come, take fifty!’ Offering the Pied Piper 950 guilders less than what he was agreed to get is severely insulting the Piper for his duties.

Stanza 10

  • The villagers are out of their depth with what they are dealing with. Considering the accomplishes of the Pied Piper, it is unreal that they have offered him fifty guilders.
  • ‘Caliph’s kitchen’. This is talking about the prime minister which shows that the Pied Piper is serious (and takes promises seriously too). He is important from the work he has spoken about.
  • ‘May find me pipe another fashion’. This is a direct warning to the village.

Stanza 11

  • ‘Insulted by a lazy ribald’. The Major insults the Piper as a crook which all the long is insulting the Piper even more.
  • ‘With idle pipe and vesture piebald?’ This is another satirical quote mentioning the different colour clothes the Piper is wearing. Overall, in stanza 11, the Major has delivered an arrogant response to a reasonable request from the Pied Piper in stanza 10.

Stanza 12

  • ‘All the little boys and girls, With rosy cheeks and flaxen curls, And sparkling eyes and teeth like pearls’. By luring innocent children with his magic emphasises the strength of his magical abilities.

Stanza 13

  • ‘The Major was dumb, and the Council stood As if they were changed into blocks of wood’. Another use of satire, Browning is displaying the ineffectiveness of the Council and Major.
  • ‘Major was on the rack’, and, ‘Council’s bosoms beat’, are other quotes which are satirical.
  • ‘A wondrous portal opened wide’. The Pied Piper up into the mountainside which can be seen as heaven from a magical perspective. This makes us realise that the Piper is doing this to save the children from the selfish villagers.
  • ‘Of all the pleasant sights they see, Which the Piper also promised me, For he led us, he said, to a joyous land’. It is a heavenly description to where the Pied Piper was taking the children.
  • ‘My lame foot would be speedily cured’. The one child who was not fast enough to keep up with the rest of the children describes beforehand the setting of the place the children were going to of it being nice, unearthly, magical land. His foot is going to recover fast again due to magic.

Stanza 15 (skipping 14)

‘If we’ve promised them aught, let us keep our promise’. Browning wants the message of the poem to be, ‘keep to a promise’. 
Be sure to check out other poems I have analysed on Ask Will Online. Also check out PoemAnalysis.com that has one of, if not the, largest database  of poetry analysis online – if I have not analysed a poem you are looking for on Ask Will Online, you will find it on PoemAnalysis.com.


  1. Anonymous October 3, 2012
  2. Anonymous November 18, 2012
  3. Will Green November 18, 2012
  4. Anonymous February 12, 2014
  5. naell jalghoom July 21, 2015
  6. Anonymous May 28, 2016
  7. Anonymous August 10, 2016
  8. Anonymous February 25, 2017

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