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Jim -- Hilaire Belloc

(Poem #809) Jim
 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.
-- Hilaire Belloc
Belloc's children's poems fall into two main categories - his animal poems,
collected in 'The Bad Child's Book of Beasts' and 'More Beasts for Worse
Children', and a series of cautionary tales collected, appropriately enough,
in 'Cautionary Tales'.

Today's poem is a fine example of the latter - like Roald Dahl after him,
Belloc appealed to the more gruesome side of children's imaginations, while
at the same time poking fun at the 'cautionary tales' in vogue during the
Victorian era. When Belloc's heroes and heroines come to a Bad End, they
come to a very bad end indeed, the details of which are expounded with glee
and relish, in a manner that has doubtless delighted generations of


Speaking of Dahl, he seems to have been influenced more than a little by
Belloc. In particular, the cautionary tales in 'Charlie and the Chocolate
Factory' and its sequel, 'Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator' seem to pay
a definite tribute to Belloc's. Compare the sound and language of today's
poem with this little excerpt from the sad saga of Goldie Pinklewseet:

    You see, how could young Goldie know,
    For nobody had told her so,
    That Grandmama, her old relation
    Suffered from frightful constipation.
    This meant that every night she'd give
    Herself a powerful laxative,
    And all the medicines that she'd bought
    Were naturally of this sort.

        -- Roald Dahl

Also, here's Shel Silverstein on lions and children:

    It's Dark in Here
    I am writing these poems
    From inside a lion,
    And it's rather dark in here.
    So please excuse the handwriting
    Which may not be too clear.
    But this afternoon by the lion's cage
    I'm afraid I got too near.
    And I'm writing these lines
    From inside a lion,
    And it's rather dark in here.

        -- Shel Silverstein


  There's a biography at poem #124

  A review of a recording of some of Gilbert's poems and a few of Belloc's
  Cautionary Verses:

  Some of Bentley's illustrations for Belloc's verses:


38 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

vivian said...

For another boy-inside-a-lion story poem, see Maurice Sendak's "Pierre: A
Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue." This one has a happy end
for the naughty, grumpy little boy.

Donogh said...

Of course this is an absolute classic. I remember memorizing it as a boy
and I still can recite it almost word-for-word


lyndie JONES said...

i am so glad i have finally found out who wrote this, my nan who recently passed recited this to me as a child and up until she died she still called say it word for word.

Dumville Wendy said...

Thank you thank you thank you. I am so glad I found this, I remember
reciting it at grammar school production. It really is a wonderful poem

Wendy Dumville
Team Leader
Gen 05


I always loved Hillaire Belloc poems as a child. My favorite is "George, who played with a dangerous toy, and suffered a catastrophe of considerable dimensions". To this day, (I am 51) I can quote the whole thing, and it's still incredibly funny to me.
Thanks for a wonderful site.

Fred/Elsie Horner said...

I remember learning this poem as my older brother learned it in school. I remembered most of the line but a few were missing. I recited it for my grandchildren last evening and they enjoyed it very much. I always wondered about the bit that I could not remember and you can imagine my joy when I found it on the web. Thank You very much. I learned this Sixty Years Ago when I was Five.

Huckfinnsj said...

I read and memorized this poem in my fifth grade in Massachusetts' public
school system. I couldn't remember the lines regarding the Dainty Morsel,
but found them on this site, Thank you very much. I will now be able to
read it to my grandchildren, who may just learn something from this tale
of woe. david

lea dakota said...

I memorized this poem in elementary school hoping to shock my teacher. What I remember was it was because of this poem I had to look up my first word in a dictionary (inaupicious). I loved this poem and at 65 I can still recite it except for the last stanza, so thank you for having it available to me so I can present it with a poetry book I'm giving the little girl next door.

Dennis Jarvis said...

It was at the end of year school concert in 1954 as a ten year old that I recited Hilaire Belocs Jim to a packed hall of pupils and families.
My teacher a very strict German priest had me perform very dramatic actions, particularly the commanding of the fat keeper to put poor Jim down.
Never in the past 52 years have I given a performance like it and was very surprised at the volume of applause and apparent enjoyment of the audience.
It is a memory that has never left me and I am writing to express my delight in having seen the poem again for the first time since those days.
I will be trying to relearn it.
Dennis J.
Melbourne Australia.

WIGGOsteels said...

Dear Friends, I learn't and loved this poem some sixty years ago; alas I now
learn that the memory is not what I thought it was !!, but it is still a
wonderful piece of writing, thankyou.
I will attempt to memorise it again, it was my stand up at piece in front of
all; at Manor-way Junior in 1947!. Thanks again. David Wiggins.

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His style during later life fulfilled the nickname he received in childhood, Old Thunder. Belloc's friend, Lord Sheffield, described his provocative personality in a preface to The Cruise of the Nona.

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Theresa Lynch said...

What a pleasure to read this poem, Jim, after many years. My fourth grade class memorized it in 1944 and ever once-in-awhile it still pops into my head. Could never remember just two lines of it, so I am happy to refresh that pleasant memory today.

dave said...

Very interesting. Please post an update to this in the future.

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