English Literature » Robert Graves » The Picture Book

The Picture Book by

When I was not quite five years old
I first saw the blue picture book,
And Fraulein Spitzenburger told
Stories that sent me hot and cold;
I loathed it, yet I had to look:
It was a German book.

I smiled at first, for she'd begun
With a back-garden broad and green,
And rabbits nibbling there: page one
Turned; and the gardener fired his gun
From the low hedge: he lay unseen
Behind: oh, it was mean!

They're hurt, they can't escape, and so
He stuffs them head-down in a sack,
Not quite dead, wriggling in a row,
And Fraulein laughed, 'Ho, ho! Ho, ho!'
And gave my middle a hard smack,
I wish that I'd hit back.

Then when I cried she laughed again;
On the next page was a dead boy
Murdered by robbers in a lane;
His clothes were red with a big stain
Of blood, he held a broken toy,
The poor, poor little boy!

I had to look: there was a town
Burning where every one got caught,
Then a fish pulled a nigger down
Into the lake and made him drown,
And a man killed his friend; they fought
For money, Fraulein thought.

Old Fraulein laughed, a horrid noise.
'Ho, ho!' Then she explained it all
How robbers kill the little boys
And torture them and break their toys.
Robbers are always big and tall:
I cried: I was so small.

How a man often kills his wife,
How every one dies in the end
By fire, or water or a knife.
If you're not careful in this life,
Even if you can trust your friend,
You won't have long to spend.

I hated it–old Fraulein picked
Her teeth, slowly explaining it.
I had to listen, Fraulein licked
Her fingers several times and flicked
The pages over; in a fit
Of rage I spat at it…

And lying in my bed that night
Hungry, tired out with sobs, I found
A stretch of barren years in sight,
Where right is wrong, but strength is right,
Where weak things must creep underground,
And I could not sleep sound.

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