Today I want to celebrate the poetry of Hilaire Belloc, another poet I recall from my school days. Our teachers often read his poems to us to remind us to behave ourselves otherwise horrid things might befall us. Apart from intriguing poems, with such a distinctive name, Hilaire Belloc was hard to forget.
Born near Paris, France, on July 27, 1870, Hilaire Belloc was raised in England, but remained a French citizen until 1902.
He is best known for his poetry anthology, ‘Cautionary Tales for Children (1907)
It was a collection of satirical tales of caution based on the popular tales of the 19th century. Belloc wrote his cautionary poems in rhyming couplets. They were gruesome and funny at the very same time. Many of the children appeared to have a strong wicked streak about them.
Belloc is also known for his illustrated 1896 children’s book, ‘The Bad Child's Book of Beasts.’ It was a collection of poems that gave humourous advice to children. The book sold over 4000 copies, which was an enormous figure during those times.
Here is an example of Belloc's poetry from the book ‘Cautionary Tales for Children.’ It was simply titled, 'George.'
Who played with a dangerous toy, and suffered a catastrophe of considerable dimensions.
When George's Grandmamma was told
That George had been as good as gold,
She promised in the afternoon
To buy him an Immense Balloon.
And so she did; but when it came,
It got into the candle flame,
And being of a dangerous sort
Exploded with a loud report!
The lights went out! The windows broke!
The room was filled with reeking smoke.
And in the darkness shrieks and yells
Were mingled with electric bells,
And falling masonry and groans,
And crunching, as of broken bones,
And dreadful shrieks, when, worst of all,
The house itself began to fall!
It tottered, shuddering to and fro,
Then crashed into the street below—
Which happened to be Savile Row.
When help arrived, among the dead
Were Cousin Mary, Little Fred,
The Footmen (both of them),
. . . the Groom,
The man that cleaned the Billiard-Room,
The Chaplain, and
. . . the Still-Room Maid.
And I am dreadfully afraid
That Monsieur Champignon, the Chef,
Will now be permanently deaf—
And both his aides are much the same;
While George, who was in part to blame,
Received, you will regret to hear,
A nasty lump behind the ear.
The moral is that little boys
Should not be given dangerous toys.
In honour of Hilaire Belloc and his cautionary poems, I was prompted to try writing a poem with a cautionary message in it. I have recently lifted it from my writer's notebook, and it has undergone a little reshaping. Hope you like it.
The Sad Tale of Norman Neets
Norman Neets would eat sugary sweets
He refused to eat beans
And pumpkin made Norm
Throw a fit
With a diet so weird
It was just as we feared
His face turned pale
He sprouted a tale
His arms and his legs
Both turned scaly
His hair became ropey
He appeared somewhat dopey
And at night
Norman howled at the moon
So children, let Norm be a lesson
Please, eat up all your greens
If you refuse,
You're igniting a fuse
With outcomes quite unforeseen.