Lacking inspiration for this week’s blogpost, I’ve decided to post a favourite poem from my childhood – that of Naughty Matilda who told such dreadful lies. I have always loved how Hillaire Belloc managed to capture some humour in this melodic rendition of Matilda’s deceit and her ultimate downfall, along with a variety of other verses in his 1907 book ‘Cautionary Tales for Children‘, bemusingly subtitled ‘Designed for the Admonition of Children between the ages of eight and fourteen years’. I have copied the poem below along with original illustrations by B.T.B., which appeared in the book. I’d encourage you to read it aloud so that you can enjoy the full impact of the verse. Following the poem is a short audio-reading of it to the accompaniment of the pictures, Enjoy!
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,
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!”
*Belloc, H. (1907) Cautionary Tales. Duckworth: London.