Tuesday

Jan. 26, 2010

Matilda Who Told Lies, and Was Burned to Death

by Hilaire Belloc

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 (Who told Lies, and Was Burned to Death)" by Hilaire Belloc, from Cautionary Tales. © Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 1907. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of cartoonist, novelist, and playwright Jules Feiffer, (books by this author) born in the Bronx (1929). He said of his childhood: "The only thing I wanted to be was grown up. Because I was a terrible flop as a child. You cannot be a successful boy in America if you cannot throw or catch a ball." He decided early on that he wanted to be a comic-strip artist, and when he was a teenager, he went to work for cartoonist Will Eisner. Then, he started drawing his own cartoons in the pages of The Village Voice. His strip in The Village Voice was one of the first cartoon strips to deal with adult themes such as sex, politics, and psychiatry. For most of his career, he has drawn and written all of his work in Central Park, which he considers his office.

It's the birthday of comedienne Ellen DeGeneres, (books by this author) born in Metairie, Louisiana (1958). She's won a dozen Emmy Awards, many of them for comedy writing. She's written two best-selling books: My Point ... And I Do Have One (1995) and The Funny Thing Is ... (2003).

It's the birthday of Irish statesman, co-founder of Amnesty International, and winner of the 1974 Nobel Peace Prize, Sean MacBride, born in Paris (1904). He's the son of Maud Gonne, the woman whom poet W.B. Yeats worshipped and embraced as his Muse. Sean's father was Major John MacBride, a military leader whom Gonne chose to marry over Yeats and whom Yeats considered a "brute." John MacBride and Maud Gonne separated when their son was a child, and Sean grew up in Paris with his mother, speaking French as a first language. He was still in France, age 12, when his father was executed for helping to lead the Easter Rising, the 1916 rebellion where Irish nationalists took over government buildings in an effort to force the end British rule of Ireland.

But not long after the Easter Rising, Sean MacBride headed to Ireland, joined the IRA, and fought in the Irish War of Independence from Britain. Then he was imprisoned by the new Irish Free State's government during the Irish Civil War that followed, because he was opposed to the terms of the Anglo-Irish treaty, which had come at the end of the war. When Sean MacBride got out of jail, he went to law school.

He worked as a lawyer for human rights cases around the world, investigating abuses by governments against civilians, especially ones that happened in times of war. He was one of the founders of the human rights group Amnesty International, and held several United Nations posts through out his life, including Assistant Secretary-General and President of the General Assembly. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974 (exactly 10 years after Martin Luther King Jr.) for mobilizing "the conscience of the world in the fight against injustice." About a year after that, he was given the Lenin Peace Prize, making him at the time the only person in the world to get both Nobel and Lenin Peace Prizes.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









«

»

  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook


The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Sharon Olds at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »