Treasure Island

Lascelles Abercrombie

(9 January 1881 – 27 October 1938 / Ashton)

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The Box


Once upon a time, in the land of Hush-A-Bye,
Around about the wondrous days of yore,
They came across a kind of box
Bound up with chains and locked with locks
And labeled 'Kindly do not touch; it's war.'
A decree was issued round about, and all with a flourish and a shout
And a gaily colored mascot tripping lightly on before.
Don't fiddle with this deadly box,Or break the chains, or pick the locks.
And please don't ever play about with war.
The children understood. Children happen to be good
And they were just as good around the time of yore.
They didn't try to pick the locksOr break into that deadly box.
They never tried to play about with war.
Mommies didn't either; sisters, aunts, grannies neither
'Cause they were quiet, and sweet, and pretty
In those wondrous days of yore.
Well, very much the same as now,
And not the ones to blame somehow
For opening up that deadly box of war.
But someone did. Someone battered in the lid
And spilled the insides out across the floor.
A kind of bouncy, bumpy ball made up of guns and flags
And all the tears, and horror, and death that comes with war.
It bounced right out and went bashing all about,
Bumping into everything in store.And what was sad and most unfair
Was that it didn't really seem to care
Much who it bumped, or why, or what, or for.
It bumped the children mainly. And I'll tell you this quite plainly,
It bumps them every day and more, and more,
And leaves them dead, and burned, and dying
Thousands of them sick and crying.
'Cause when it bumps, it's really very sore.
Now there's a way to stop the ball. It isn't difficult at all.
All it takes is wisdom, and I'm absolutely sure
That we can get it back into the box,And bind the chains, and lock the locks.
But no one seems to want to save the children anymore.
Well, that's the way it all appears, 'cause it's been bouncing round
for years and years
In spite of all the wisdom wizzed since those wondrous days of yore
And the time they came across the box,
Bound up with chains and locked with locks,
And labeled 'Kindly do not touch; it's war.'

Submitted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002
Edited: Monday, January 09, 2012

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  • K See (6/12/2010 10:27:00 AM)

    The author is Kendrew Lascelles- posted by Mary Heibeck (below) has the correct facts. I happen to own a 1st Edition book that was published in 1974 by Nash Publishing, Los Angeles. Library of Congress catalog card #73-92960. It should be read every day on the nightly news (Report) Reply

  • Scott Becker (10/25/2009 7:43:00 PM)

    I remember both Smothers Brothers shows. The Smothers Brothers were my favorite and I clearly remember Geoffrey Lewis reading The Box for the first time and also Jack Lemmon reading it during the later show. I fell in love with the poem and have a written copy I keep. I do not know the author. Henry Gibson did some similar poems, but I don't think he ever read The Box. For a generation that struggled with the Vietnam War this poem was very powerful. (Report) Reply

  • Stephanie Mariner (9/29/2008 11:11:00 PM)

    Hi, I'm glad you guys like the poem, but Lascelles Abercrombie is NOT the author. The true author is Kendrew Lacelles, and it was recited on the Smothers Brothers's show because he was once a writer for them. Kendrew is alive and kicking in LA, with a few screen play credits and a newly published novel. If you check the old John Denver disk, he is credited there with the poem, and several other places as well. And it was Jack Lemon who recited the poem, I have it on VHS. I also have a recording of Kendrew reciting the poem. I hope this site gets it correct soon! It is a brilliant poem by a brilliant man. (Report) Reply

  • David Haas (1/20/2008 7:54:00 PM)

    I also remember very plainly this poem from 'the Smothers Brothers', but it was a reunion special that was done in the mid/late '80s, and that time around it was recited by the incomparable Jack Lemmon. I think part of what made it so striking to me, that I can remember it 20 years later, is that towards the end of it he seemed to have the beginnings of tears. (Report) Reply

  • Mary Heibeck (1/8/2008 12:19:00 PM)

    I can recall it as though it was yesterday. I saw this wonderful poem read on 'The Smother's Brothers Show'. An actor named Geoffrey Lewis came out on the stage and sat on a stool and read it. I can still feel the way I felt when I heard it. Every time I see Geoffrey Lewis in a TV show, I have an immediate flashback. I wish people would take it to heart. (Report) Reply

  • John Harrison (11/17/2007 1:26:00 AM)

    I first heard 'The Box' read on, of all places, the television show, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In' some time in the early 1970's. It was read by actor Henry Gibson. Performed simply and strait-faced. No gags, no punch-lines. He just walked out on a simple set, read the poem and walked off.
    As I recall, the producers were deluged with requests for a copies of the poem. I, a young teen-aged boy from middle America sent my stamped self-addressed envelope and obtained a copy in a few weeks. It had to about 1970 or 1971, as I recall, I recited it in English class that spring. It is wonderful to find it again. Thank you. (Report) Reply

  • Robin Rogers (10/31/2007 5:23:00 AM)

    I too spent many hours at night, listenly to John Denver (on 8 track none the less) Poems, Prayers, and Promises. I loved this poem and has been one of my all time favorites. I purchased the same cd a few years back and the poem has been cut from the album. I went and tried a cassette and same thing, poem cut. I wonder if the label did that. Did they think it was not politically correct anymore to say the truth? Did we just not have a war going on at the time of the printing? I have a feeling that John Denver would not care if it was politically correct and neither do I. Someone needs to read about all the broken children and families. It bumps our children in America everyday by taking there moms and dads away to fight. I will be sending this poem to all my friends this week to take a look. (Report) Reply

  • Mark Mefferd (10/14/2006 10:05:00 AM)

    This is one of my favorite poems of all time. I memorized this poem as a kid, just listening to John Denver reciting it on the album Poems, Prayers and Promises. As a child (and now as an adult) the Georgian style made it very easy to understand with very direct and in your face description. It is a testiment to the reality of the 'fools' who wage war and just how little regard they have for the lives of the young people who fight them. Bravo! ! ! Maybe the so called leaders of our world today should read it and take a long look in the mirror. This should be a top 100 poem at the least. (Report) Reply

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