The Mouse’s Tale

Lewis Carroll

‘The Mouse’s Tale’ by Lewis Carroll offers a playful critique of the judicial system. The poem emphasizes the need for a fair trial and the dangers of some kinds of authority.


Lewis Carroll

Nationality: English

Lewis Carroll was an English author who is best remembered for his novels.

His famous novels include Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: The justice system can be unfair

Speaker: Fury and Mouse

Emotions Evoked: Amusement, Confusion, Dishonesty

Poetic Form: Free Verse

Time Period: 19th Century

This is an incredibly unique poem that explores the justice system through an absurd conversation between personified characters.

Carroll’s poem is well-known for using anthropomorphic characters to satirize the legal system. Fury’s  quick decision to go after the mouse highlights the nature of some kinds of legal actions and how those who have power often abuse it.

The mouse’s lack of interest in participating in the trial underscores the notion that sometimes the pursuit of justice is compromised by self-serving motivations. Plus, the fact that those in authority may overlook the importance of fair judgment. 

The poem is also well-known for its shape. It is, in fact, a shape poem. This means that the lines of the poem take a specific shape, in this case, a mouse’s tail. This turns the title into a pun

It’s also important to note that this poem was part of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and should also be analyzed within that context

The Mouse's Tale
Lewis Carroll

Fury said toa mouse, Thathe metin thehouse,'Let usboth goto law:I willprosecuteyou.—Come, I'lltake nodenial;We musthave atrial:ForreallythismorningI'venothingto do.'Said themouse tothe cur,'Such atrial,dear sir,With nojury orjudge,would bewastingour breath.''I'll bejudge,I'll bejury,'Saidcunningold Fury;'I'll trythe wholecause,andcondemnyoutodeath.'


‘The Mouse’s Tale’ by Lewis Carroll is a whimsical poem that details a confrontation between a mouse and the character Fury. 

The poem begins with Fury proposing to go to court to have a trial against the mouse, claiming he has nothing else to do that morning. The mouse, however, dismisses the idea, stating that a trial without a jury or judge would be futile and a waste of time. 

Despite the mouse’s objections, Fury arrogantly declares himself both judge and jury, vowing to try the case and condemn the mouse to death.

Structure and Form 

‘The Mouse’s Tale’ by Lewis Carroll is a creative shape poem. This means that the poem is presented in the shape of a mouse’s tail, with each line arranged to form the tail’s curving shape. The lines are short and often contain only one or two words, contributing to the visual effect of the poem. 

There is no specific rhyme scheme, but the poet does use examples of assonance and consonance to create a feeling of rhyme throughout the lines. 

An original version of 'The Mouse's Tale' from 1865
An original version of ‘The Mouse’s Tale’ from 1865. Note: The text in this version is different than the version that appears in ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.’

Literary Devices 

In this poem, the poet makes use of a few different literary devices. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Personification: can be seen when the poet imbues something non-human with human characteristics. The poem personifies the character Fury, attributing human-like qualities and emotions to this abstract entity.
  • Metaphor: The entire poem serves as a metaphorical representation of the absurdities and injustices that can occur in the legal system. The trial between Fury and the mouse symbolizes unjust power dynamics and arbitrary judgments.
  • Irony: The poem’s irony lies in Fury’s claim that he will have a trial without a jury or judge, as well as his declaration to be both judge and jury. This highlights the absurdity of the situation and the lack of fairness in the trial.

Detailed Analysis 

Lines 1-24

Fury said to

a mouse, That

he met

in the


‘Let us

both go

to law:

I will



Come, I’ll

take no


We must

have a








to do.’

In the first lines of the poem, the poet depicts a dialogue where the character Fury speaks to a mouse he encountered in the house. It’s an absurdist scene that mirrors the bizarre and dream-like reality Alice has fallen into in Wonderland.

The character of Fury wants to put Mouse on trial. He says, “‘Let us both go to law: I will prosecute you.— Come, I’ll take no denial; We must have a trial.” In these lines, Fury suggests a formal trial to the mouse. Carroll is perhaps critiquing the serious, grown-up world’s obsession with laws and trials, reducing it to this absurd situation. It’s a blend of the mundane and the surreal, a hallmark of Carroll’s style.

Fury even reveals to readers that he only wants to prosecute Mouse because he has nothing else to do. It reminds readers that the reasons for deciding someone’s fate can be as trivial as boredom.

Lines 25-51

Said the

mouse to

the cur,

‘Such a


dear sir,

With no

jury or


would be


our breath.’

‘I’ll be


I’ll be




old Fury;

‘I’ll try

the whole







In the next section of the poem, which makes up the very tip of the mouse’s tail, reveals that the mouse is quite intelligent. He knows that the proposed trial would be “wasting our breath” and that it can’t be valid without  a jury or a judge. The mouse is suggesting the futility of such a process, demonstrating a sense of reason and understanding of how a fair trial should be.

In the next short lines, Fury counters the mouse’s protest by arrogantly appointing himself as both the judge and the jury. This is a critique of power, showing how those in authority can control the process and outcome of justice. The term “cunning” adds a sinister element to Fury’s character and makes it clear that he means harm. 

The final lines condemn the sometimes frivolous nature of the justice system, with Fury deciding to condemn the mouse to death. Fury decided to outcome, undermining the notion of justice and fair trial. This could be seen as a parody of an autocratic system where justice is manipulated by those in power.


Who are the characters in ‘The Mouse’s Tale?’

The characters in ‘The Mouse’s Tale’ are Fury and a mouse. Fury represents an arbitrary and capricious authority figure, while the mouse serves as the innocent party subjected to this authority.

Why does Lewis Carroll use the form of a mouse’s tail for this poem?

Carroll uses the form of a mouse’s tail as part of his experimental approach to literature. The form also contributes to the dream-like atmosphere of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.’

How does ‘The Mouse’s Tale’ fit into the overall narrative of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?’

‘The Mouse’s Tale’ is part of a scene where Alice meets a group of animals after the “Pool of Tears” incident. It’s the Mouse’s narrative about its encounter with Fury, and it reflects the book’s larger themes of absurdity, power dynamics, and critique of societal norms.

Why does Fury want to put the mouse on trial?

Fury suggests a trial simply because he has nothing else to do. This reflects the poem’s critique of arbitrary authority and the capriciousness of power.

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Lewis Carroll poems. For example: 

  • Jabberwocky’ – is a brilliant nonsense poem. It tells the story of one person’s quest to slay the Jabberwock and the incredible creatures they meet along the way.
  • The Walrus and the Carpenter’ – was included in his 1871 novel ‘Through the Looking-Glass.’
  • The Crocodile’ – speaks about a crocodile who sneakily attracts fish and then swallows them with a big smile on his face.

Poetry+ Review Corner

The Mouse’s Tale

Enhance your understanding of the poem's key elements with our exclusive review and critical analysis. Join Poetry+ to unlock this valuable content.
Lewis Carroll (poems)

Lewis Carroll

This poem is a wonderful example of Carroll's verse. It was first included in 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' and has since gone on to become popular in its own right. The characters, Fury and the mouse, serve as allegorical figures in a critique of power and justice. Carroll's linguistic creativity, evident in the pun of the poem's title, enhances the playful yet thought-provoking quality of his work.
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19th Century

This poem demonstrates the wider context of 19th-century poetry in its exploration of societal critique and power dynamics, albeit in a far more absurdist way than many of Carroll's contemporaries. Most 19th-century poetry tended towards Romantic and Victorian themes, with a strong focus on emotion, nature, and, often, social issues.
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In the context of English poetry, Carroll's work reflects a departure from the rigid, formalist tendencies of much of the poetry that preceded him. Unlike many earlier English poets who adhered strictly to specific metrical patterns and traditional themes, Carroll broke free from these constraints. His poems, embedded within his narrative works, are marked by their whimsy, wordplay, and visual elements, like the shape poetry seen in this poem.
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Disappointment is subtly present in this poem. There's an implicit disappointment in the failure of the justice system represented by Fury. The mouse's reasonable protests about the lack of a judge or jury go unheeded, and Fury condemns the mouse to death arbitrarily.
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The journey in this poem is not a physical one, but a procedural journey through an absurd and unfair 'trial.' The mouse, upon being caught by Fury, is led through a nonsensical process that mirrors, in its bizarre way, the journeys we may encounter in bureaucratic systems or societies with corrupt authorities.
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This poem invokes amusement through its playful language and absurd scenarios. Carroll's characteristic wordplay, exemplified in the pun of "tale" and "tail," contributes to the poem's humorous tone. Additionally, the very idea of an anthropomorphized Fury engaging a mouse in a legal trial is amusing in its ridiculousness.
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This poem, with its peculiar characters and bizarre circumstance of a trial, creates a sense of bewilderment, reflecting Alice's own confusion in Wonderland. Carroll's use of a concrete form adds to this, disrupting traditional reading patterns. This state of confusion is purposeful, aiming to destabilize reader expectations and prompt deeper consideration of the poem's underlying themes.
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Dishonesty is embodied in the character of Fury. Described as "cunning," Fury takes on the roles of judge and jury, undermining the fairness of the trial. His verdict, already decided before the trial even begins, signifies a dishonest and corrupt system.
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Adversity is represented by the mouse's predicament. The mouse is forced into a trial where the outcome is pre-decided, reflecting the adversities individuals may face when confronted with an unfair system or an autocratic regime.
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While the poem doesn't directly allude to specific historical events or works, it can be seen as a general allusion to unjust legal proceedings and the misuse of power. By creating a nonsensical trial with an unfair verdict, Carroll indirectly alludes to real-world situations where justice is manipulated or denied, lending a depth of social commentary to the poem's whimsical surface.
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The arbitrary trial Fury imposes on the mouse, and his self-appointment as both judge and jury, underscore the absence of fairness. The poem critiques an unjust system where the powerful control the outcome, and the powerless, represented by the mouse, are left at their mercy. This focus on injustice, framed within an absurd, fantastical scenario, provokes reflection on similar instances of injustice in real-world systems of power.
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Fury and the mouse are personified characters, speaking and behaving like humans. This is a common feature in Carroll's work, giving life and human attributes to non-human entities. The personification adds to the absurdity of the poem while also enabling Carroll to explore human themes of justice, power, and adversity through these characters.
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Free Verse

Free verse is a type of poetry that does not conform to any specific meter or rhyme scheme. 'The Mouse's Tale,' while not a traditional free verse poem, does display some characteristics of this form. The lines vary in length and lack a consistent rhythm or rhyme scheme.
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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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