Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cautionary Tales.

Quite a number of years ago I discovered a writer that struck a chord in this, then, young mother. His name? Hilaire Belloc.



Born in the year 1870 in La-Celle-Saint-Cloud, France, he moved to England as a young boy with his widowed mother, and remained there for the rest of his life. He died in 1953. He was also the father of five children who were left motherless after Hilaire's wife died of influenza in 1914.
A prolific writer, his legacy consists of travel literature, essays and poetry. But I think his most crowning achievement must be his Cautionary Tales for Children, perhaps the result of his having to raise five children alone.
Oh, the wit! The brazen, daring boldness to put on paper such profound truths- children who misbehave will suffer consequences. Period.
He spoke directly to that place in me that believes that consequence for ill behavior is not meted out with a hard-shelled candy coating. Instead, it is more rather like being unexpectedly hit in the head by a seagull.*
My children have a keen understanding of this little glitch in their mother. But they also know, that no matter what they do, I will always love them. I don't have to like what they have done, but it does not change how I feel. (Although there are times I wish I was that seagull. )
It is probably a family trait that I have inherited. My sister is possessed of the same gene. It is the one that caused the policeman to step back and let her have a go at my nephew, who had creeped out of the house, stolen her car and went on a joy ride with his friend. (Resulting in them running up over a curb and causing $6200 worth of damage.) After she had finished, the policeman could only say to my now terrified nephew, "I hope you listened to your mother. You have just committed the worst crime you could have done- stealing away your parent's trust. " Truer words were never spoken.
I don't want this to be a preachy post. Nope, it's just that a few things have happened lately that brought these poems back to the forefront of my brain. I am including my favorite Cautionary Tale here for you. I hope you like it.
MATILDA
by: Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)
WHO TOLD LIES, AND WAS BURNED TO DEATH
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.
*- Yes, a seagull hit my son in the head on Sunday. See? I told you.

3 comments:

Brainiac's Daughter said...

What goes around comes around... and around... and around... and around.

Betty said...

Good grief! (There's that oxymoron, again.) What a poem. I'm going to go immediately to my favorite book seller and see if I can get a copy...what a hoot! Hope your son's head is okay...seagulls...aacck!!

Oh, my word verification today is 'petinest'...as in, "She's the petinest human we've ever seen!"...from my dogs! Ha!

MNScrapbookmom said...

This is a fantastic poem! I shall share it with my children in the morning as they have school - but starting two hours late. It will make for a great morning conversation and lesson.

Thanks for sharing. ¥