Sometimes, the fable works its way into the poetic just as well as it does into traditional literature. Though perhaps of different form and voice today, such methodology was popular in the early 20th century, when poets like the Anglo-French writer Hilaire Belloc walked the streets of Europe.
Belloc, the man under the spotlight at tonight’s pub, was a writer that enjoyed mixing the cautionary with the religious. A patriotic man, and a cutting figure of his day, Belloc was a son of France, a graduate of Oxford, and later in life, a naturalized citizen of Britain. He married American Elodie Hogan, and lived to see five children with her, before her untimely death in 1914–a death he would mourn until his own end of days by stroke in 1941. He was also a volatile pursuer of debate–some of his most famous being his open quarrels with writer H.G. Wells and the concepts of natural selection.
A sample of his poetry today comes in the form of the poem “Jim, who ran away from his Nurse and was eaten by a Lion.” In case you couldn’t tell from the title, that mix of the cautionary and religious nevertheless often combined in his writings in the form of humor–how else would you connect to the children, after all?
His Friends were very good to him.
They gave him Tea, and Cakes, and Jam,
And slices of delicious Ham,
And Chocolate with pink inside
And little Tricycles to ride,
And read him Stories through and through,
And even took him to the Zoo–
But there it was the dreadful Fate
Befell him, which I now relate.
You know–or at least you ought to know,
For I have often told you so–
That Children never are allowed
To leave their Nurses in a Crowd;
Now this was Jim’s especial Foible,
He ran away when he was able,
And on this inauspicious day
He slipped his hand and ran away!
He hadn’t gone a yard when–Bang!
With open Jaws, a lion sprang,
And hungrily began to eat
The Boy: beginning at his feet.
Now, just imagine how it feels
When first your toes and then your heels,
And then by gradual degrees,
Your shins and ankles, calves and knees,
Are slowly eaten, bit by bit.
No wonder Jim detested it!
No wonder that he shouted “Hi!”
The Honest Keeper heard his cry,
Though very fat he almost ran
To help the little gentleman.
“Ponto!” he ordered as he came
(For Ponto was the Lion’s name),
“Ponto!” he cried, with angry Frown,
“Let go, Sir! Down, Sir! Put it down!”
The Lion made a sudden stop,
He let the Dainty Morsel drop,
And slunk reluctant to his Cage,
Snarling with Disappointed Rage.
But when he bent him over Jim,
The Honest Keeper’s Eyes were dim.
The Lion having reached his Head,
The Miserable Boy was dead!
When Nurse informed his Parents, they
Were more Concerned than I can say:–
His Mother, as She dried her eyes,
Said, “Well–it gives me no surprise,
He would not do as he was told!”
His Father, who was self-controlled,
Bade all the children round attend
To James’s miserable end,
And always keep a-hold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse.