‘George‘ by Hilaire Belloc is a three-stanza poem that follows a rhyme scheme of AABBCCDD…etc. This rhyming pattern was chosen because it is suitable for creating a “sing-song” like melody to the poem, which is often used in children’s poetry.
The first stanza is the longest of the three with nineteen lines, the second stanza has twelve lines, and the last, that is also the concluding “Moral,” has only two.
The poem begins with a sub-title that outlines what is going to happen in the poem, and is then followed by the description a young boy, George, being rewarded for good behavior with a gigantic balloon. Soon things go astray though as the balloon, which is filled with (probably) hydrogen, floats into a candle flame. The resulting explosion is so powerful that the windows break, the lights go out, and the house collapses.
This disaster causes the deaths of a number of household members and employees, but George emerges almost completely unscathed. The poem ends with a moral, that boys should not be given dangerous toys.
Analysis of George
Who played with a Dangerous Toy, and suffered a Catastrophe of considerable Dimensions
When George’s Grandmamma was told
That George had been as good as gold,
She promised in the afternoon
To buy him an Immense BALLOON.
And so she did; but when it came,
It got into the candle flame,
And being of a dangerous sort
Exploded with a loud report!
The lights went out! The windows broke!
The room was filled with reeking smoke.
And in the darkness shrieks and yells
Were mingled with electric bells,
And falling masonry and groans,
And crunching, as of broken bones,
And dreadful shrieks, when, worst of all,
The house itself began to fall!
It tottered, shuddering to and fro,
Then crashed into the street below-
Which happened to be Savile Row.
In this piece the narrator, someone impassively observing the characters in this allegorical work, describes a single occurrence in a young child’s life and the consequences of what follows.
The poem begins with the speaker describing a choice made by a little boy’s “Grandmamma,” or grandmother. George, the young boy in the piece, was reported to her as having been very good that day. So as a reward she chooses to buy him an “Immense” balloon. Soon, this reward turned into life-threatening danger. The balloon was of the “dangerous sort,” meaning that it was filled with hydrogen, and it floated into a “candle flame.” The combination of fire and hydrogen caused the balloon to explode, “with a loud report!”
The following events happen one after another and progress from harmless, to humorous, and then surprisingly, to deadly. The lights go out in the room and all of the windows break. Due to the darkness in the room, and the billowing “reeking smoke” that fills it, no one can see anything. All that can be heard are “dreadful shrieks” and “yells.”
The explosion seems to have weakened the walls and foundation of the house and so the “masonry” begins to “groan” as it collapses. This results in more shrieking and “broken bones.”
Here, the poem takes a decidedly dark turn, something that one might not be expecting as the rhyme scheme, and initial lines lead one to believe this will be a relatively harmless tale.
The house is now collapsing around it’s inhabitants and eventually falls into “Savile Row,” the street on which the house was located.
When help arrived, among the dead
Were Cousin Mary, Little Fred,
The Footmen (both of them), the Groom,
The man that cleaned the Billiard-Room,
The Chaplain, and the Still-Room Maid.
And I am dreadfully afraid
That Monsieur Champignon, the Chef,
Will now be permanently deaf-
And both his aides are much the same;
While George, who was in part to blame,
Received, you will regret to hear,
A nasty lump behind the ear.
In the second stanza a small amount of time has progressed and “help” has finally arrived. There are more than a few people that have died due to this accident with the balloon. Some of those mentioned are “Cousin Mary…the Groom, / The man that cleaned the Billiard-Room.” A large number of household members and employees have died, and others have been injured. The Chef and “Monsieur Champignon…/ Will now be permanently deaf.”
One person who was not seriously injured was George. The only thing that he suffered was a “nasty lump behind the ear.” This is quite ironic, and perhaps funny, that the one person who was not injured was the one who is partially responsible for the accident. This is just another testament to the randomness of the world, something that is expanded on in the last section.
The moral is that little boys
Should not be given dangerous toys.
The only remaining section of the poem is the “Moral.” Belloc has chosen to conclude the story with a short two-line explanation about what should have been done to keep all these catastrophes from occurring. In the majority of allegorical works, especially those of the poetic variety, the meaning can be somewhat hidden. The reader might not understand it until a third or fourth reading, and in this case it is no different. The poet has decided to end the poem humorously and somewhat ironically, but it still has a deeper meaning that a reader can choose to investigate
One is able to read this ending in two different ways, as an obvious statement, and as something a bit deeper. The phrase, “boys / Should not be given dangerous toys,” is both clear and obscured. Clearly, boys should not be given dangerous things to play with, but how was one to know that a balloon would cause so much damage?
The writer is hoping to get a message across that there is no predicting the events of life. The harmless becomes the deadly and the dangerous, the safe.
About Hilaire Belloc
Hilaire Belloc was born in July of 1870 in La Celle-Saint-Cloud, France. He was brought up in a staunchly religious, Roman Catholic household, something that would translate to almost every corner of his work. As a young man, he was educated at the Oratory School in Birmingham, England, where he also found employment as a journalist. He would go on to attend Balliol College, Oxford, from which he graduated with first-class honors in history. Only a few years after that he was married and became a British citizen.
At the beginning of his writing career Belloc published two volumes Verses and Sonnets, in 1895, and The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts, in 1896. This was followed by the humorous book, Cautionary Tales.
In addition to his poetic works, he also published a number of books detailing the lives of historical figures and events. In 1902, he published a book, The Path to Rome, which detailed his own foot journey from Toul to Rome. Throughout his career, he published other novels describing trips he had undertaken, many volumes of satirical commentary, and a series of biographies. Hilaire Belloc died in Guildford, Surrey, England, in July of 1953.