Fable the Mountain and the Squirrel

The Mountain and the Squirrel

by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Fable (The Mountain and the Squirrel) Summary

In Short

  • The big mountain mocks the squirrel by calling it ‘little prig’.
  • The squirrel replies that everything on this earth, however small or big, has its own significance and a reason to exist.
  • The squirrel also adds that everyone has got unique capabilities and roles to play. For example, the mountain may be able to carry a forest, but it cannot crack a nut like the squirrel.

Fable / The Mountain and the Squirrel Explanation

The mountain and the squirrel
Had a quarrel;
And the former called the latter ‘Little Prig.’

The poem opens with a quarrel between a mountain and a squirrel. The argument begins with the mountain calling the squirrel ‘little prig’. A ‘prig’ is a person who behaves as if they are morally superior to others. So, we see the mountain mocking at the squirrel for its small size and most possibly for not giving the big mountain the special attention and importance it expects from the squirrel.

So, why did the mountain and the squirrel have a quarrel? They had a quarrel as the mountain thought itself to be more important than the squirrel for its size and might. It is therefore an irony that the mountain calls the squirrel a ‘prig’ where in reality the mountain itself claims superiority over the squirrel.

Bun replied,
‘You are doubtless very big;

The squirrel named Bun now accepts that without doubt the mountain is very big. Understandably, the squirrel has no problem with their respective sizes, but the mountain seems to be proud for its own size and power.

But all sorts of things and weather
Must be taken in together,
To make up a year
And a sphere.

The squirrel continues its argument saying that all kinds of things, however small or big, stay together to make this world (sphere) what it is now. Everything has a reason to exist. If anything goes missing, the balance will be disturbed. Likewise, all the seasons (weather) stay together to make the year a complete whole.

Here we see that the squirrel is really wise and highlighting the theme of life in harmony with all existence. Everyone has their value and specific role to play in God’s creation.

And I think it no disgrace
To occupy my place.

As we already noted earlier, the squirrel has no issue with its small size and it finds no disgrace or dishonour to occupy a small place on this earth as a small creature, to live in its own way and to play its specific role as given by the nature.

If I’m not so large as you,
You are not so small as I,
And not half so spry.

It’s going like a one-sided argument now. The squirrel challenges the mountain by saying that small size has its own benefits too.

The mountain may be large and powerful. But the squirrel’s small size makes it flexible, agile and move faster from one place to another. And being large, the mountain is not half as active (spry) as the squirrel can be.

If the large size is the mountain’s strength, lack of agility is its weakness. So, no one is perfect in this world and one should not boast of their size and ability.

I’ll not deny you make
A very pretty squirrel track;
Talents differ; all is well and wisely put;

The squirrel once again accepts the mountain’s strengths. It knows that a very nice path can be made for the squirrel through the forest on the mountain’s back. So, the squirrel gives credit where it is due. But it cannot accept the mockery the mountain makes for its small size.

The squirrel asserts that everyone has got its own talent, though they might be different. It also believes that everything has its value (all is well) and is well-organised (wisely put) by the creator of this world. No one should be belittled or ashamed of its size or capability.

If I cannot carry forests on my back,
Neither can you crack a nut.’

In these concluding two lines, the squirrel draws another comparison to prove that no one is superior to others. The squirrel cannot carry a forest on its back like the mountain. On the other hand, the mountain cannot crack a nut like the squirrel. So, everyone has their limits. They should not be compared.

The squirrel brings the message that no one is flawless. But the mountain is unable to see its own weakness. It considers others low and tries to mock and humiliate others.

Fable – Critical Commentary

The nineteenth century American Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson was a transcendentalist who believed that everyone has a purpose in life and everyone’s potential is limitless. This theory of transcendentalism has got an expression in his present poem named “Fable”, alternatively known as “The Mountain and the Squirrel”.

As the title itself suggests, by genre the poem is a fable, i.e., a short story typically with animals and inanimate objects as characters and conveying a moral. Here, we have a mountain and a squirrel named Bun as the characters. The poem also delivers the moral that “no one on this earth is flawless and everyone has their own role to play”.

The 19 lines poem has neither stanza division nor any particular metrical pattern. The rhyme scheme is not regular but rhyming couplets have been employed with a few exceptions like “replied” and “you” which do not rhyme with anything. Again, alternative lines rhyme towards the end. The language used is very simple, as expected in a fable.

As for poetic devices, there are a couple of plain similes in the lines “If I’m not so large as you, / You are not so small as I”. There is use of assonance (repetition of vowel sound) in “And I think it no disgrace” and consonance (repetition of consonant sound) in “all is well and wisely put” and “Neither can you crack a nut”.

The poem, though apparently deals with a verbal fight between an inanimate object in the form of a mountain and a trifle creature like the squirrel, teaches us a great lesson. We should learn to respect everyone however unimportant they may seem. We should also realize that no one is perfect and so should not humiliate others for their fault or try to prove ourselves superior to others.

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