You are using an outdated browser. For a faster, safer browsing experience, upgrade for free today.

Creative Division (The Peasant and the Geese)

Published September 15, 1975
Countries: Russia
Age Levels: 10 and up

Not so very long ago a very rich Russian nobleman lived between two peasant farmers.  One of the peasants had sufficient rubles to live comfortably.  The other had very few rubles saved and had to work very hard every day just to feed his family.

The poor peasant had a very large family.  His farm was small.  But even so, it took a great deal of time to do all the work that had to be done.  His children were too young to be of much help, and his wife had to spend all of her time taking care of the children.  There was not enough extra money to pay for a hired hand.  So the peasant worked from sunrise to sunset and sometimes farmed by moonlight.

Each night after dark, the peasant and his wife always found time to talk and loked for solutions to their problems.  "We have only enough grain to feed the children porridge in the morning and don't have enough grain left to feed the goose," said the husband.

"That's good," said his wife, trying to look on the bright side of every situation, "because we have no salt left to flavor it and no bread left to stuff it.  Our children will start the day off with full stomachs, and we won't worry about the goose until tomorrow.

In the morning, the peasant's wife had an idea that she shared with him.  "Since we have no food for the goose and no salt or bread to cook it with," she suggested, "why not give it as a gift to our rich neighbor.  Perhaps, he will give us something in return for it."

"You are clever as usual," the peasant told his wife and took the goose under his arm to the house of his rich neighbor.

He was met at the door of the rich mansion by his wealthy neighbor.  "Welcome," said his wealthy neighbor.  "How can I help you?"  He expected for the man to beg for food or money and was prepared to reject his pleas.  A man does not get rich by giving money away!

"Well, sir, I brought you a gift from my family," answered the peasant.

"A gift?  But, you are poor!  It's not right for a poor man to give presents to the wealthy."  Then he felt a bit ashamed that he had suspected that the peasant had come to his door to beg.  He tried to cover up his embarrassment by making an excuse to reject the gift.  "It's a small goose anyway.  My family is large.  I have a wife, two sons and two daughters and myself to feed.  The goose would not be enough for a whole meal, so perhaps you had better take it back home."

The poor peasant continued, "I can show you how to divide it fairly so everyone had enough to eat if you would care to cook the goose for your dinner tonight," he stated with a smile on his face.  I can come back this evening and demonstrate my skills at dividing the goose for you."

The nobleman was filled with curiosity and took the goose inside and handed it to his cook.  He returned to the peasant and said, "Thank you for your gift.  Your goose will grace our table tonight.  I am anxious to see your skills at dividing the goose."

The peasant went home to his wife to await the evenings meal.  The two worked together to watch the children and do the farm work at the same time and shared their ideas for dividing up the goose.  He put on his cleanest shirt and washed extra well before returning to the nobleman's home for dinner.

The nobleman opened the door for the peasant and saw him standing there with an empty plate and a sharp carving knife in his hand.  The cook had stuffed the goose with a dressing made from bread, eggs, herbs and mushrooms.  It looked to be twice the size as it was when he had given it to the rich neighbor.  The table was filled with soup and vegetables and plenty to eat, even if the goose had not been served.  In fact, the peasant licked his lips as he looked at the meal before him.  Then, peasant took up the carving knife.

The family sat around the table expecting to have a bit of fun at the poor man's expense.  No person could carve up a goose evenly among six people.  But, the peasant put a serious look on his face and began to carve.

"You are the head of the family," he said to the nobleman.  "Therefore, you should have the head.  He cut off the head and neck of the goose and laid it on the nobleman's plate.

"You sit across the table from your husband, so you should have the tail."  With this, he cut the tail off the goose and laid it on the wife's plate.

"Your two sons are always running around, wearing out their legs and feet.  So, they shall have the legs and feet of the goose."  He cut off the legs and feet and laid one on each boy's plate.

Then he cut off the two wings and gave one to each daughter.  "You two ladies look like angels, except you do not have wings, and I know you both will fly away and get married when you grow up.  So I give you the wings."

Then the peasant took the bowls of food the cook had placed on the table and quickly scooped equal amounts of each dish on everyone's plate.  So, you see - each of you has an equal portion of the goose and a full plate to eat.  And since I am only a poor peasant, I should take what is left so there is no arguing among you about who gets the leftovers.  He then scooped up the largest part of the goose and the leftover potatoes, vegetables and bread and started for the door.

The nobleman and his family exploded with laughter.  "This was the best entertainment we have had in a long time, he told the peasant.  I must give you something in return for the goose.  At this, he took a small sack filled with rubles and handed it to the peasant who took it with glee.

The peasant returned home with food for his family and money to ease his burdens.  He was able to buy an extra cow to provide milk for his children and an ox to pull his plow, turn his mill and pul his cart.  With the help from the animals, he began to make more rubles from his small farm and had more time to spend with his family.

The story could have ended here, except like with most stories, one person's good fortune brings about jealousy from another person.   In this story, it was the wealthier peasant who lived on the other side of the rich nobleman.  The wealthy peasant saw the new cow and the ox.  He also saw that the farm was looking better and that his neighbor was taking time to play with the children once in a while instead of always working.

"How did you suddenly get enough rubles to buy a cow and an ox?  Did someone in your family pass away and leave you money?"  the man asked rudely to the peasant's wife. 

"Goodness no," replied the wife.  My husband gave the nobleman and his family a goose for dinner.  The nobleman was so happy that he gave us a sack of coins that we have used wisely to help improve our lives.

The wealthier peasant was upset.  He hurried home to tell his own wife about the sudden good fortune of their neighbor.  They both were quite envious.  Then, they began to think of finding a gift to give the noblemen, so they could be given a sack of coins.  The wealthier peasant said, "If one skinny goose could get one bag of rubles, then we should give the nobleman all FIVE of our big fat geese!"    

The very next day, the wealthier neighbor took a stick in his hand and opened the pen in which the geese were kept.  He waved the stick behind them as if to switch their behinds, and the geese waddled out of the gate of the pen.  The peasant walked all five geese to the nobleman's door.  Like the first time, the nobleman met the man at the door.  "What brings you here," asked the rich nobleman.

"I don't think that you should be giving me gifts since you are poorer than I," said the nobleman.

"You accepted a gift from my neighbor," the wealthier peasant quickly responded.  Then he knew what this was about!  He knew that this jealous man was envious of the rubles he had given to the poorer man.  So he responded, "Well, I will accept your gift and reward you for it if you can divide the geese fairly among the six members of my family."

The peasant said, "Sir, I don't think you can divide five geese evenly by six people."

"Then we shall ask your clever friend."  At this, the nobleman sent a servant to the first peasant's cottage.  The peasant and the servant came back in a very short time.  The wealthier peasant was still embarrassed that he had not been able to divide the geese as the nobleman had asked him to.  But, at least he would enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that his neighbor could not divide five geese evenly among six people either.

The nobleman explained, "The last time, you did such a clever job of dividing one goose among six people.  I thought perhaps you might be able to show me how to eveny divide five geese."

At this, the first peasant picked up one of the geese and handed it to the nobleman.  "You and your wife ade a pair, so I will give you a goose, and that makes three."

Then he gave a goose to the nobleman's sons.  "You two brothers make a pair.  I give you a goose, and that makes three!"

He handed a goose to the two daughters.  "You two lovely daughters make a pair.  I give you a goose, and that makes three."

He handed a goose to the nobleman.  "You and your fine wife make a pair..  I give you a goose, and that makes three."

He held up the two geese that were left.  "These two geese make a pair.  I will take them.  The two plus me makes... THREE!  You see, sir, there are even sets of three for everyone.  Your five geese are evenly divided."

Everyone laughed out loud, except for the wealthier peasant, who now had five less geese than he owned a few moments before.  The nobleman gave the first peasant another bag of rubles, the same as before.  But,then he turned and also paid the wealthier peasant for his geese, just so all three neighbors could remain good friends.

Note: A version of this story can be found in Jane Yolen's Favorite Folktales from Around the World.  An earlier version can be located in The Runaway Soldier and Other Tales of Old Russia as told by Fruma Gottschalk in 1946.  However the orginal is a story of the people, a folktale that everyone can tell.

Dr. Mike Lockett is an educator, storyteller and children's author from Normal, IL. Dr. Lockett has given more than 4000 programs across the USA and as far away as eastern Asia. Contact Mike by writing to in order to book him for a storytelling program or young authors program or to inquire about purchasing his books and CDs. More stories and information about storytelling can be found at