Saturday, May 15, 2010

Hilaire Belloc Getting Gharsterly

I know it’s Edward Gorey who gets all the attention, the titters, the little hee-hees in the corners of the Internet. And that’s fine. I like me an occasional read of the Gashlycrumb Tinies just as much as the next guy.

But he wasn’t the first to find humor in the macabre. Or the first to poke fun at a strict, moralistic society, or at least the childrens’ books that society produced. Nor was Hilaire Belloc the first, either. But he’s damn entertaining. I'll hold Belloc's "A Bad Child's Book of Beasts" up against Gorey's Gashlycrumbs any time.

This is my favorite from his “A Moral Alphabet”:

E Stands for Egg


The moral of this verse
Is applicable to the Young. Be terse.

And, yes, you Gorey fans, Belloc did get into the slightly gross. Behold:


Who ran away from his Nurse and was eaten by a Lion

There was a Boy whose name was Jim;
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.

This brings me to Kenny Kynoch. Kenny was (and is, I suppose) a guy of whom I was vaguely aware in junior high school. He was a dramatist, one of those guys who always went off in a room by himself at the library to practice oratory and readings and such. Much like this:

I don’t know if he ever read a Hilaire Belloc poem, but it’s quite possible. YouTube is littered with such dramatic readings.

I like Belloc’s style. When I give a go at poetry, I have a tight structure similar to his. I won’t burden you with my poetry. Or, maybe just this one:

When a mouse gets et by a cat
and don’t return to its homes
does the widder come a-lookin’
and scrub the poop from his bones?

When a mouse is digested and lumpish
all femurs and tibias and fur
does the family seek out the turd he’s in
while cursing the evil-fanged cur?

And mourned for its sad, brief existence
grieved for as Mother Machree
lost, and sorely lamented
as a sailor dead and buried at sea?

Or is the mouse, quietly defecated
blamed for its messy demise
and the bones left to moulder with feces
with no tears in the widder’s wide eyes?

I don’t know, I don’t know hisses Tabby
while Tiddles and Morris just laugh
When I eat, I just eat, don’t be churlish
I don’t think on my meal’s sad behalf.

Here’s an additional Belloc treat: The poet himself singing songs he wrote.

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