First World War Poetry Digital Archive

The Picture Book

THE PICTURE BOOK by ROBERT GRAVES

When I was not quite five years old I first saw the blue picture book, And Fräulein 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 Fräulein 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, Fräulein thought.

Old Fräulein 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 Fräulein picked Her teeth, slowly explaining it. I had to listen, Fräulein 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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