Poem of the Week

Today’s poem is dedicated to those of you who are of the opinion that ‘literature breeds distress’. I hope you enjoy it! – and remember to let me know what you think.



    Sarah Byng, Who Could Not Read and Was Tossed into a Thorny Hedge by a Bull


    Some years ago you heard me sing

    My doubts on Alexander Byng.

    His sister Sarah now inspires

    My jaded Muse, my failing fires.

    Of Sarah Byng the tale is told

    How when the child was twelve years old

    She could not read or write a line.

    Her sister Jane, though barely nine,

    Could spout the Catechism through

    And parts of Matthew Arnold too,

    While little Bill who came between

    Was quite unnaturally keen

    On ‘Athalie’, by Jean Racine.

    But not so Sarah! Not so Sal!

    She was a most uncultured girl

    Who didn’t care a pinch of snuff

    For any literary stuff

    And gave the classics all a miss.

    Observe the consequence of this!

    As she was walking home one day,

    Upon the fields across her way 

    A gate, securely padlocked, stood,

    And by its side a piece of wood

    On which was painted plain and full,


    Alas! The young illiterate

    Went blindly forward to her fate,

    And ignorantly climbed the gate!

    Now happily the Bull that day

    Was rather in the mood for play

    Than goring people through and through

    As Bulls so very often do;

    He tossed her lightly with his horns

    Into a prickly hedge of thorns,

    And stood by laughing while she strode

    And pushed and struggled to the road.

    The lesson was not lost upon

    The child, who since has always gone

    A long way round to keep away

    From signs, whatever they may say,

    And leaves a padlocked gate alone.

    Moreover she has wisely grown

    Confirmed in her instinctive guess

    That literature breeds distress.


Hilaire Belloc


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Filed under Poem of the Week, Poetry

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