Poetry by Jeff Green


Matilda’s Aunt, (A Cautionary Tale Retold)

by cricketjeff on May 20, 2012.  © Jeff Green, All rights reserved

MATILDA’s aunt was such a bore
It made one yawn and gnaw the floor,
She worshipped truth to n-th degree
Which brought Matilda misery.
The few small lies she loved to tell
Were all that kept her from the Hell,
Of maiden aunts and West End plays
Which seemed to last for days and days.

Matilda loved both men and boys,
Her aunt ignored such earthly joys
And felt Matilda should stay chaste
Until her charms had gone to waste.
Her niece was not the least inclined
To see her chances undermined
And so began a short campaign
To find a man to ease her strain.

The Fire Brigade, you may recall,
Recruited men who were not small.
In uniforms the like of which
Have caused most female hearts to twitch;
Perhaps, she thought, if brave young men
Would call, her Aunt would think again.
And so she hurried to the phone
The moment she was left alone.

She dialled with care, then screamed, with force,
“We’re doomed to die!”, it worked of course.
Within the hour, or maybe two
Three dozen firemen formed a queue.
With hoses poised and axes high
These heroes let their passions fly!
They soaked and smashed, they’d lives to save
All well built men, so strong and brave.

Matilda’s Aunt was unimpressed,
Her niece’s motives stayed unblessed.
Insurance meant there was no loss
But still her Aunt was very cross
And when her ire had been expounded
She told Matilda she was grounded,
No Friday nights, no telephone,
She’d have to spend a week alone.
So when next day a fire took hold
Matilda did as she was told.

She would not touch the phone despite
The flames that shot into the night
And would not leave the house for fear
Her angry Aunt was waiting near
To see Matilda disobey
And take more liberties away.
She tried to shout but not one word
Of her distress was ever heard;
Her heartfelt pleas completely blocked
By double glazing, doubly locked.

Matilda’s Aunt came home that night
To find a most distressing sight;
The embers of her smouldering pile
Had not been house shaped for a while
And underneath the tragic crash
Matilda was reduced to ash.
                 – – – – – – – – – –
If you’re an Aunt you should take heed
And not repeat this dreadful deed —
A few white lies are not as bad
As niece flambéed inside your pad!

Author notes

I have attempted to use Belloc’s own formatting but Kevin’s site doesn’t think I should so I have to put some plain text at the top to stop him wrecking everything!

by: Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)

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.

“Matilda” from Cautionary Tales. Hilaire Belloc. 1907.