“Muckle-Mouth Meg” Robert Browning (Asolando – 1889)

FROWNED the Laird on the Lord: "So, red-handed I catch thee?
Death-doomed by our Law of the Border!
We've a gallows outside and a chief to dispatch thee:
Who trespasses--hangs: all's in order."

He met frown with smile, did the young English gallant:
Then the Laird's dame: "Nay, Husband, I beg!
He's comely: be merciful! Grace for the callant
--If he marries our Muckle-mouth Meg!"

"No mile-wide-mouthed monster of yours do I marry:
Grant rather the gallows!" laughed he.
"Foul fare kith and kin of you--why do you tarry?"
"To tame your fierce temper!" quoth she.

"Shove him quick in the Hole, shut him fast for a week:
Cold, darkness and hunger work wonders:
Who lion-like roars now, mouse-fashion will squeak,
And 'it rains' soon succeed to 'it thunders.'"

A week did he bide in the cold and the dark
--Not hunger: for duly at morning
In flitted a lass, and a voice like a lark
Chirped "Muckle-mouth Meg still ye're scorning?

"Go hang, but here's parritch to hearten ye first!"
Did Meg's muckle-mouth boast within some
Such music as yours, mine should match it or burst:
No frog-jaws! So tell folk, my Winsome!"

Soon week came to end, and, from Hole's door set wide,
Out he marched, and there waited the lassie:
"Yon gallows, or Muckle-mouth Meg for a bride!
Consider! Sky's blue and turf's grassy:

"Life's sweet: shall I say ye wed Muckle-mouth Meg?"
"Not I" quoth the stout heart: "too eerie
The mouth that can swallow a bubblyjock's egg:
Shall I let it munch mine? Never, Dearie!"

"Not Muckle-mouth Meg? Wow, the obstinate man!
Perhaps he would rather wed me!"
"Ay, would he--with just for a dowry your can!"
"I'm Muckle-mouth Meg" chirruped she.

"Then so--so--so--so--" as he kissed her apace--
"Will I widen thee out till thou turnest
From Margaret Minnikin-mou', by God's grace,
To Muckle-mouth Meg in good earnest!"
A young, handsome Scottish lad is arrested for trespassing and is sentenced to death by the “Law of the Border.” The Lady of the land (the Lord’s wife), intervenes and begs for mercy; she is able to broker a deal: if the young man agrees to marry their daughter, Muckle-Mouth Meg, his life will be spared. The proud young man scoffs at the idea of marrying the “‘mile-wide-mouthed monster” of a daughter (he has never seen her) and concludes: “‘Grant rather the gallows!” Determined to marry off their daughter to this quick tempered and proud “callant,” the parents decide to imprison the lad for a week without food because “Cold, darkness, and hunger work wonders . . .”, and the “lion” will become a “mouse.” He spends a week in the jail but does not go hungry; it seems a young lass, who remains unseen, with the voice of “a lark” brings him food every day. She asks him if he is still “scorning” Muckle-mouth Meg and the stubborn young man admits “No frog-jaws” will become his wife.

At the end of his sentence, one week later, the young lad is released from prison and again is given the choice to marry Muckle-mouth Meg or swing from the gallows. Again, he chooses death over marriage; he explains that Meg’s muckle-mouth is “too eerie/The mouth that can swallow a bubblyjock’s egg;/Shall I let it munch mine?”  Browning’s word choice in the poem is immensely humorous. The young lad describes the daughter as a “mile-wide-mouthed monster,” as having “frog-jaws,” and a “mouth that can swallow a bubblyjock’s egg.” Even the verb “munch” instead of the word “kiss” is wonderfully funny. The young, pretty girl with the voice “like a lark” who had been giving him food while imprisoned, suggests that rather than marry Muckle-mouth Meg, “Perhaps he would rather wed me!” The young man, much taken by the young girl’s kindness and beauty (and, of course to avoid the gallows) instantly accepts her proposal with the odd words “with just for a dowry your can!” Just then, the pretty young lass confesses that she is, in fact, Muckly-mouth Meg and the young man stammers: “Then so- so- so- so-“ he says, as he grabs and kisses the girl to transform Margaret Minnikin-mou’s (her real name) sweet, lovely, normal mouth “To Muckle-Mouth Meg in good earnest!”

As Browning leaves the young man ironically and passionately doing his best to transform pretty Margaret’s mouth in the previously abhorrent frog-jawed monster, a whole different kind of monster appears in the next poem.