Matilda told such Dreadful Lies,
It made one Gasp and Stretch one’s Eyes;
Her Aunt, who, from her Earliest Youth,
Had kept a Strict Regard for Truth,
Attempted to Believe Matilda:
The effort very nearly killed her,
And would have done so, had not She
Discovered this Infirmity.
For once, towards the Close of Day,
Matilda, growing tired of play,
And finding she was left alone,
Went tiptoe to the Telephone
And summoned the Immediate Aid
Of London’s Noble Fire-Brigade.
Within an hour the Gallant Band
Were pouring in on every hand,
From Putney, Hackney Downs, and Bow.
With Courage high and Hearts a-glow,
They galloped, roaring through the Town,
‘Matilda’s House is Burning Down! ‘
Inspired by British Cheers and Loud
Proceeding from the Frenzied Crowd,
They ran their ladders through a score
Of windows on the Ball Room Floor;
And took Peculiar Pains to Souse
The Pictures up and down the House,
Until Matilda’s Aunt succeeded
In showing them they were not needed;
And even then she had to pay
To get the Men to go away,
It happened that a few Weeks later
Her Aunt was off to the Theatre
To see that Interesting Play
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray.
She had refused to take her Niece
To hear this Entertaining Piece:
A Deprivation Just and Wise
To Punish her for Telling Lies.
That Night a Fire did break out-
You should have heard Matilda Shout!
You should have heard her Scream and Bawl,
And throw the window up and call
To People passing in the Street-
(The rapidly increasing Heat
Encouraging her to obtain
Their confidence) – but all in vain!
For every time she shouted ‘Fire! ‘
They only answered ‘Little Liar! ‘
And therefore when her Aunt returned,
Matilda, and the House, were Burned.
The poem above comes from Hilaire Belloc’s Book Cautionary Tales for Children. To read the poem away from the book, minus the wonderful illustrations from B.T.B, and the explanatory poem in the frontispiece (see below) one could be forgiven for taking it more seriously than it was perhaps meant.
And is it True? It is not True.
And if it were it wouldn’t do,
For people such as me and you
Who pretty nearly all day long
Are doing something rather wrong.
Because if things were really so,
You would have perished long ago,
And I would not have lived to write
The noble lines that meet your sight,
Nor B. T. B. survived to draw
The nicest things you ever saw.
H. B. Belloc’s heroine Matilda is one of several figures he conceived in satirizing the moralistic tales used in Edwardian England to instill proper behavior in children.(Publisher’s Weekly).
There is a fine line in children’s literature as to what is just too violent. It is up to parents and supervisors to be ever watchful as to what is fit for tender young minds. And these days it is made much more challenging by the availability of cellphones internet and television. As I was thinking about this dilemma I came across this link from The Independent in which Matilda was named one of the ten bloodiest bedtime stories for children. Read it and see what you think. Beauty and the Beast definitely kept me awake at night. There was a stage when I wouldn’t get out of my bed in case the Beast was under it. I think it’s important that we adults realise that children can harbour secret fears that we might see as unimportant and silly. They need to be listened to.
Having said that I can see why Matilda has lasted the years and is possibly Belloc’s best known work. It definitely has a great rhythm and is a dramatic poem to perform.
Hilaire Belloc 1870 -1953, was known as a writer, orator, poet, sailor, satirist, man of letters, soldier and political activist. To read more about his interesting life go here.The illustrator of this and other books by Hilaire was Lord Ian Basil Gawaine Temple Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood or BTB (4 November 1870 – 3 July 1917), also known as Lord Basil Temple Blackwood, a British lawyer, civil servant and book illustrator. He died in action in World War 1. Read more here.
Please return to the Tuesday poem Hub, where Eileen Moller is this week’s editor with a most interesting poem.