When Thomas Takes His Pen

Elsie Hill

Reproduced from Henry Steele Commager, ed., The St. Nicholas Anthology. New York: Random House, 1948. The anthology does not indicate the date of the poem’s original publication, but I believe the poem and accompanying artwork to be in the public domain. Re-use at your own risk.

YOUNG Thomas Jones came home from school with sad and solemn air;
He did not kiss his mother’s cheek nor pull his sister’s hair;
He hungered not for apples, and he spoke in dismal tones;
‘T was very clear misfortune drear had happened Thomas Jones.

“My precious child,” his mother cried, “what, what is troubling you?
You ‘re hurt–you ‘re ill–you ‘ve failed in school! Oh, tell us what to do!”
Then Thomas Jones made answer in a dull, despairing way:
“I ‘ve got to write an essay on ‘The Indian To-day.'”

His tallest sister ran to him, compassion in her eye;
His smallest sister pitied him–nor knew the reason why;
And all that happy family forsook its work and play
To hunt up information on “The Indian To-day.”

They read of Hiawatha and of sad Ramona’s woe–
You found encyclopedias where’er they chanced to go.
They bought a set of Cooper, and they searched it through and through,
While Thomas Jones sat mournfully and told them what to do.

For three whole days the library was like a moving-van.
“Is Mr. Jones,” each caller asked, “a literary man?”
And day by day more pitiful became young Thomas’ plight,
Because, alas! the more he read, the more he could not write.

“Write what you know,” his mother begged (she stirred not from his side).
“I do not know one single thing!”that wretched child replied.
“Oh, help me, won’t you ? Don’t you care?” Then when assistance came,
“Don’t tell me–don’t! It is n’t fair!”he pleaded just the same.

The night before the fateful day was quite the worst of all.
Black care upon the house of Jones descended like a pall.
All pleasure paled, all comfort failed, and laughter seemed a sin;
For “Oh, to-morrow,” Thomas wailed, “it must be handed in!”

When, lo! the voice of Great-aunt Jones came sternly through the door:
“I cannot stand this state of things one single minute more!
The training of a fractious child is plainly not my mission;
But–Thomas Jones, go straight upstairs and write that composition!”

And Thomas Jones went straight upstairs, and sat him down alone,
And–though I grant a stranger thing was surely never known–
In two short hours he returned serenely to display
Six neatly written pages on “The Indian To-day”!

His teacher read them to the class, and smiled a well-pleased smile;
She praised the simple language and the calmly flowing style;
“For while,” she said, “he does not rise to any lofty height,
‘T is wonderful how easily young Thomas Jones can write.”