239 Days in America

A Social Media Documentary following 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1912

May 15, 1912
Storify Feature

The Parliament of Rats

ONE MORNING AFTER his talk at the Lake Mohonk Conference on International Arbitration, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá went walking with some friends near the Mountain House, where the conference was held. The group came upon a party of young people. After a few words of greeting ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said that he would recount a fable he had heard in the East.

Howard Colby Ives, a Unitarian minister from New Jersey, reported the occasion twenty-five years later in his book, Portals to Freedom. The fable ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told, which is often incorrectly attributed to Aesop, appeared for the first time during the Middle Ages. William Langland included a version of it in Piers Plowman, his allegorical narrative poem from the late fourteenth century, calling it “The Parliament of the Rats and Mice.”

Once upon a time, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá narrated, the rats and mice held an important conference, the subject of which was to make peace with the cat. The cat, Langland wrote, “came whenever he liked and leapt on them easily and seized them at his will, and played with them perilously and batted them about.”

“A rat of renown, most eloquent of speech,” Langland continues, “presented an excellent remedy to them all. ‘I have seen men in the city of London wearing bright necklaces around their necks, and some craftily worked collars.  They go about unleashed both in warren and wasteland wherever they like, and elsewhere at other times, as I hear tell.  Were there a bell on their necklace, by Jesus, it seems to me that men might know where they were and run away.’ ”

“ ‘And so,’ ” said the rat, “ ‘reason tells me to buy a bell of brass or bright silver and fasten it on a collar for our common good and hang it on the cat’s neck; then we can hear whether he rides, rests, or roams about to play. If he wishes to amuse himself, then we can appear in his presence, and if he is angry, we can be wary and shun his way.’ ”


This seemed like an excellent plan, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explained, until the question arose as to who should undertake the dangerous job of belling the cat. None of the rats liked the idea and the mice thought they were altogether too weak. So the conference broke up in confusion.

“Everyone laughed,” Ives tells, “‘Abdu’l-Bahá with them. After a short pause he added that that is much like these Peace Conferences. Many words, but no one is likely to approach the question of who will bell the Czar of Russia, the Emperor of Germany, the President of France and the Emperor of Japan.”

“Faces were now more grave,” Ives wrote.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá laughed again. “It is very easy to come here,” he concluded, “camp near this beautiful lake, on these charming hills, far away from everybody and deliver speeches on Universal Peace. These ideals should be spread and put in action over there, (Europe) not here in the world’s most peaceful corner.”


  • BamFam

    Another story from the Lake Mohonk Peace Conference…

    “The secretary of the International Peace Society, in bidding ‘Abdu’l-Bahá good-bye, said he was sorry religion could not be included in the organization, since its members included Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and others, and all would object if others were favored. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá replied, “‘Your members may be compared to beams of different metals and you are trying to unite them as you would tie these fingers together with a string. See, no matter how you tie them, still they remain separate. But the only way to make these metals into one alloy, is to put them into a crucible and apply intense heat to melt them all. For our melting-pot, we use the fire of the love of God.'”

    Bagdadi, “‘Abdul-Baha in America,” pp. 182. (quoted in Alan Ward’s 239 Days, p. 213)

    • Pdreynol

      Thanks for sharing that story about melding metal.  Just excellent.

  • Bahaiwoman99

    I love the words, “These ideals should be spread and put in action…”  Those will be my words for today. PUT INTO ACTION.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lina.smithson Lina Smithson

    Excellently summarized.

  • Michael

    This is beautiful 🙂

  • Sue Emmel

    Considering this talk of one hundred years ago in light of the warring conditions that prevail all around the planet, it has been shown that the world wasn’t ready for peace then and it isn’t ready yet, especially since ‘Abdu’l-Baha said in a subsequent talk on June 2, 1912, that “peace is an outcome of love (http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/PUP/pup-60.html).” Learning to love each other, now that is an even more remedial condition given that it was Jesus Christ who commanded this, to “Love one another,” more than 2000 years ago. What will cause our hearts to open up to each other?

  • Sbentler

    This blog is an indescribable daily joy! Thank you!