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

By Hilaire Belloc 1870–1953 Hilaire Belloc
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.

Source: Complete Verse (1970)

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Poet Hilaire Belloc 1870–1953



Subjects Coming of Age, Humor & Satire

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 Hilaire  Belloc


Hilaire Belloc is considered one of the most controversial and accomplished men of letters of early 20th-century England. An author whose writings continue to draw either the deep admiration or bitter contempt of readers, he was an outspoken proponent of radical social and economic reforms, all grounded in his vision of Europe as a "Catholic society." Although many critics have attacked Belloc's prescriptive polemical works for . . .

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SUBJECT Coming of Age, Humor & Satire



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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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