This week’s poem is brought to us by Louise Willis from CST in Banbury. Louise writes:
“This is one of my favourite childhood poems. I memorised it at an age when I wasn’t allowed to use the phone, so reading about Matilda’s illicit use of it to summon the fire brigade was almost beyond belief. Of course, as the title says, she was burned to death for her trouble. This cautionary tale has a bouncy pace which builds to the arrival of the fire brigade ‘from Putney, Hackney, Downs and Bow’ and I loved the imagery of the ‘gallant band’ galloping through London to save Matilda and her home. There are also some lovely insights into her home life (ballroom floor, trips to the Theatre etc) which helped me to imagine what she and her home looked like before ‘Matilda, and the House, were Burned’.”
Matilda, 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.
By Hilaire Belloc, 1907
“I also suggest taking a look at www.poetrysociety.org.uk. It’s a fantastic site, and brilliant to use to find local events to celebrate National Poetry Day on Thursday 9th October. I recommend visiting the links to read more poems and also the poetry café. Interestingly, specific reference is made to an event taking place in Liverpool to mark the Liverpool 08, Capital of Culture celebrations and wider events throughout the UK. It’s a lovely site and visitors can subscribe to their newsletter by email, free of charge.”
With thanks to Louise Willis