~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~
The most important thing we've learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set --
Or better still, just don't install
The idiotic thing at all.
In almost every house we've been,
We've watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone's place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they're hypnotised by it,
Until they're absolutely drunk
With all that shocking ghastly junk.
Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don't climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink --
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?
IT ROTS THE SENSE IN THE HEAD!
IT KILLS IMAGINATION DEAD!
IT CLOGS AND CLUTTERS UP THE MIND!
IT MAKES A CHILD SO DULL AND BLIND
HE CAN NO LONGER UNDERSTAND
A FANTASY, A FAIRYLAND!
HIS BRAIN BECOMES AS SOFT AS CHEESE!
HIS POWERS OF THINKING RUST AND FREEZE!
HE CANNOT THINK -- HE ONLY SEES!
'All right!' you'll cry. 'All right!' you'll say,
'But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!'
We'll answer this by asking you,
'What used the darling ones to do?
'How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?'
Have you forgotten? Don't you know?
We'll say it very loud and slow:
THEY ... USED ... TO ... READ! They'd READ and READ,
AND READ and READ, and then proceed
To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
One half their lives was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And treasure isles, and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants,
And cannibals crouching 'round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
(It smells so good, what can it be?
Good gracious, it's Penelope.)
The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,
And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
And Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and-
Just How The Camel Got His Hump,
And How the Monkey Lost His Rump,
And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
There's Mr. Rat and Mr. Mole-
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks-
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They'll now begin to feel the need
Of having something to read.
And once they start -- oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts. They'll grow so keen
They'll wonder what they'd ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.
– Roald Dahl (1916-1990)
I came across this gem and thought we were due to have some fun. Mind you, I think Dahl was perfectly serious in his message; the fun is in the way he says it.
I don't know how justified he was in his fears. It seems to be agreed that excessive viewing is bad for children in various ways, particularly very young children. Whether it stops them from reading is open to question.
I'm old enough to recall that when we first got television there were dire warnings to that effect. Perhaps this poem was written in that era. As things have turned out, it depends very much on the amount and kind of viewing any child does. Some TV shows actually create a wish to read, e.g. documentaries which inspire further exploration, or shows based on works of fiction which make some of us want to read the books.
However I don't want to start a serious argument here. Whatever we think about TV, I'm sure poets are all very much in favour of reading! Personally I'm not planning to give up either. Mainly I just thought it would be good to have a laugh, and to remember that poetry can be comical.
Roald Dahl, of course, was a prolific writer and best-selling author, probably best known for his children's stories. Wikipedia describes him as 'a British novelist, short story writer, poet, screenwriter, and fighter pilot' and adds that 'His books have sold more than 250 million copies worldwide.'
His writing, often humorous, has been described as 'darkly comic' and unsentimental. His children's stories include the well-known Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach and Matilda, which have translated well to stage and screen. There are eight pages of books still available at his Amazon profile, including some Kindle editions.
I hope you enjoyed his anti-TV diatribe.
Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is
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remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may
be out of copyright). The photo of a young Roald Dahl 'is from the Carl Van Vechten Photographs collection at the Library of Congress. According to the library, there are no known copyright restrictions on the use of this work.'