11 August 2011

Instructional Verse

My dear parents, if you seek an introduction to poetry beyond Mother Goose, might I recommend Hilaire Belloc's Bad Child's Book of Beasts and, for the slightly more advanced, Cautionary Tales?

The former is a compendium of short rhymes on various creatures: the Dodo, the Marmozet, and the Learned Fish, to name a few.

The latter is filled with delightful titles, such as JIM, Who ran away from his Nurse, and was eaten by a Lion, HENRY KING, Who chewed bits of string, and was early cut off in Dreadful agonies, and GODOLPHIN HORNE, Who was cursed with the Sin of Pride, and Became a Boot-black, among others.

On opening this book of verse, one is greeted by the following introduction:

Upon being asked by a reader whether the verses contained in this book were true.

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.
—Hilaire Belloc.

The mysterious B.T.B. is Basil Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 4th Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, who apparently didn't want his name known--but as he's since passed on to his reward, there's no harm in its disclosure.

Of course, the overly literal child, while grasping the moral of each tale, might also be sent into convulsions of tears. Here, discretion is key.

I close with

Who was too Freely Moved to Tears, and thereby ruined his Political Career.

Lord Lundy from his earliest years
Was far too freely moved to Tears.
For instance if his Mother said,
"Lundy! It's time to go to Bed!"
He bellowed like a Little Turk.

Or if his father Lord Dunquerque
Said "Hi!" in a Commanding Tone,
"Hi, Lundy! Leave the Cat alone!"
Lord Lundy, letting go its tail,
Would raise so terrible a wail

As moved His Grandpapa the Duke
To utter the severe rebuke:
"When I, Sir! was a little Boy,
An Animal was not a Toy!"

His father's Elder Sister, who
Was married to a Parvenoo,
Confided to Her Husband, "Drat!
The Miserable, Peevish Brat!
Why don't they drown the Little Beast?"
Suggestions which, to say the least,
Are not what we expect to hear
From Daughters of an English Peer.

His Grandmamma, His Mother's Mother,
Who had some dignity or other,
The Garter, or no matter what,
I can't remember all the Lot!
Said "Oh! That I were Brisk and Spry
To give him that for which to cry!"
(An empty wish, alas! For she
Was Blind and nearly ninety-three).

The Dear Old Butler thought—but there!
I really neither know nor care
For what the Dear Old Butler thought!
In my opinion, Butlers ought
To know their place, and not to play
The Old Retainer night and day.
I'm getting tired and so are you,
Let's cut the poem into two!

To read the Second Canto, which describes Lord Lundy's public fallout, buy the book!