I randomly flipped to this poem today while opening the Best Loved Poem Of The American People. I love it! From doing a little research, I learned that the author of this poem, Joseph Malins wrote this in 1913 in support of prohibition of alcohol. There is an important spiritual principle that I see illustrated in this poem. We need to have some fences or boundaries in our lives when it comes to living for God. Some things need to be “off limits”, because they are just not good for us and can cause us to “fall off the cliff” and lose out with God. I’m thankful for men of God that have preached the Word and helped me to see areas in my life where I needed to put up a fence. Like the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
’Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed, though to walk near its crest was so pleasant;
But over its terrible edge there had slipped a duke, and full many a peasant;
So the people said something would have to be done, but their projects did not at all tally.
Some said: “Put a fence round the edge of the cliff”; some, “An ambulance down in the valley.”
But the cry for the ambulance carried the day, for it spread through the neighboring city.
A fence may be useful or not, it is true, but each heart became brimful of pity,
For those who slipped over that dangerous cliff; and the dwellers in highway and alley,
Gave pounds or gave pence, not to put up a fence, but an ambulance down in the valley.
“For the cliff is all right if you’re careful,” they said, “And if folks even slip and are dropping,
It isn’t the slipping that hurts them so much as the shock down below when they’re stopping.”
So day after day as those mishaps occurred, quick forth would these rescuers sally,
To pick up the victims who fell off the cliff with the ambulance down in the valley.
Then an old sage remarked, “It’s a marvel to me that people give far more attention
To repairing results than to stopping the cause, when they’d much better aim at prevention.
Let us stop at its source all this mischief,” cried he; “Come, neighbors and friends, let us rally;
If the cliff we will fence, we might almost dispense with the ambulance down in the valley.”
“Oh he’s a fanatic,” the others rejoined; “Dispense with the ambulance? Never!
He’d dispense with all charities too if he could. No, no! We’ll support them forever!
Aren’t we picking up folks just as fast as they fall? And shall this man dictate to us? Shall he?
Why should people of sense stop to put up a fence while their ambulance works in the valley?”
But a sensible few, who are practical too, will not bear with such nonsense much longer.
They believe that prevention is better than cure; and their party will soon be the stronger.
Encourage them, then, with your purse, voice, and pen, and (while other philanthropists dally)
They will scorn all pretense and put a stout fence on the cliff that hangs over the valley.
Better guide well the young than reclaim them when old, for the voice of true wisdom is calling;
To rescue the fallen is good, but ‘tis best to prevent other people from falling;
Better close up the source of temptation and crime than deliver from dungeon or galley;
Better put a strong fence ’round the top of the cliff, than an ambulance down in the valley.