Friday, 7 December 2007

A Friday Poem

I've always been fond of the poems of A.A. Milne - they were read to me when I was small, I read them first to younger brothers, and then to my own children. The combination of Shepherd's wonderful drawings and Milne's characterisation create perfect stories and present complex human (or bear-ish) behaviour in a way that is accessible to small children while remaining engaging to adults. I would be at a loss to decide which was my favourite of his poems (although it's the long ones I like best) but, indulging the Christmas spirit (I've just posted my responses to the Christmas meme here) I thought we would have this one. The phrase "a hopeful stocking" is so poignant!

King John's Christmas

A.A. Milne

King John was not a good man —
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.
And men who came across him,
When walking in the town,
Gave him a supercilious stare,
Or passed with noses in the air —
And bad King John stood dumbly there,
Blushing beneath his crown.

King John was not a good man,
And no good friends had he.
He stayed in every afternoon ...
But no one came to tea.
And, round about December,
The cards upon his shelf
Which wished him lots of Christmas cheer,
And fortune in the coming year,
Were never from his near and dear,
But only from himself.

King John was not a good man,
Yet had his hopes and fears.
They’d given him no present now
For years and years and years.
But every year at Christmas,
While minstrels stood about,
Collecting tribute from the young
For all the songs they might have sung,
He stole away upstairs and hung
A hopeful stocking out.

King John was not a good man,
He lived his life aloof;
Alone he thought a message out
While climbing up the roof.
He wrote it down and propped it
Against the chimney stack:
And signed it not “Johannes R.”
But very humbly, “JACK.”

“I want some crackers,
And I want some candy;
I think a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I don’t mind oranges,
I do like nuts!
And I SHOULD like a pocket-knife
That really cuts.
And, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John was not a good man —
He wrote this message out,
And gat him to his room again,
Descending by the spout.
And all that night he lay there,
A prey to hopes and fears.
“I think that’s him a-coming now,
(Anxiety bedewed his brow.)
“He’ll bring one present, anyhow —
The first I’ve had for years.

“Forget about the crackers,
And forget about the candy;
I’m sure a box of chocolates
Would never come in handy;
I don’t like oranges,
I don’t want nuts,
And I HAVE got a pocket-knife
That almost cuts.
But, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John was not a good man —
Next morning when the sun
Rose up to tell a waiting world
That Christmas had begun,
And people seized their stockings,
And opened them with glee,
And crackers, toys and games appeared,
And lips with sticky sweets were smeared,
King John said grimly: “As I feared,
Nothing again for me!”

“I did want crackers,
And I did want candy;
I know a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I do love oranges,
I did want nuts.
I haven’t got a pocket-knife —
Not one that cuts.
And, oh! if Father Christmas had loved me at all,
He would have brought a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John stood by the window,
And frowned to see below
The happy bands of boys and girls
All playing in the snow.
A while he stood there watching,
And envying them all...
When through the window big and red
There hurtled by his royal head,
And bounced and fell upon the bed,
An india-rubber ball!



  1. That was so nice. I remember reading that poem. Well, I didn't at first, until it got to the line of 'the red india rubber ball' and then I went Oh!

    My favorite Milne poem was the one where the little boy doesn't want to go to town with his nanny. I'll have to go look that one up. thanks for the lovely memories.

  2. Wonderful! As you might imagine, we 'tiddley-pom' with the best of them in this household and we don't even need snow to do it!

  3. Fabulous! Loved the poem ...

  4. Glad you all enjoyed it - it brightened up a grey Monday just reading your comments.

  5. I've just found your blog - from Cornflower's book group comments - and had to leave a comment about AA Milne's 'Bad King John'. My father read it to me when I was a child and I was astonished to find, so many years later, that I remembered so much of it. Thank you for posting it and giving me the chance to remember.

  6. Angela, welcome! I think I must have found a excuse to read this poem every Christmas for most of my life - I can recite huge chunks but, I'm sorry to say, not all.