"The Mouse's Tale" is a concrete poem by Lewis Carroll which appears in his novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Though no formal title for the poem is given in the novel, the chapter title refers to "A Long Tale" and the Mouse introduces it by saying, "Mine is a long and sad tale!"
Alice thinks the Mouse means its tail, which makes her imagine the poem in its twisted, tail-like shape:
|“||It is a long tail, certainly, ...but why do you call it sad?" And she kept on puzzling about it while the Mouse was speaking, so that her idea of the tale was something like this:—||”|
The poem can be seen here in its proper shape.
In the tale, the Mouse (speaking of itself in the third person) explains how a cur called Fury plotted to condemn it to death by serving as both judge and jury. "The Mouse's Tale" thus fits into Carroll's recurring themes of the insane trial (found also at the end of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, as well as in The Hunting of the Snark) and of predation (found throughout the Alice books and especially in the poems). In this poem, Carroll also takes a jab at spurious litigation (apparently criminal in this case, judging by the sentence), which may resonate with contemporary readers: “’…I’ll take no denial; We must have a trial: For really this morning I’ve nothing to do.’”
Although the Mouse claims that the "tale" will explain why he hates cats and dogs, the only villain in the poem is a dog; there is no actual explanation for the Mouse's animosity toward cats. However, Alice's Adventures Under Ground, the original version of Alice in Wonderland, contains a different poem at this point in the story (which begins, "We lived beneath the mat,/ Warm and snug and fat./ But one woe, that/ Was the cat!") which includes both cats and dogs as the enemies of the mice. That poem is also concrete poetry in the shape of a tail.
The poem is a "quadruple pun": besides being a tale about a tail, the poem is also typeset in the shape of a tail and its rhyme structure is that of a tail rhyme.
- Jethro K. Lieberman. The Litigious Society, Basic Books Inc., New York, 1981. Reviewed in the Michigan Law Review, Vol. 80, No. 4, 1982 Survey of Books Relating to the Law (Mar., 1982), pp. 611-613.