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Featured Poem: King John’s Christmas by A. A. Milne

Written by Chris Routledge, 22nd December 2008

Chosen by Katie Peters, Project Worker, Get Into Reading

It's a bit of fun that takes me back my childhood, when my mother read this to me. I love the rhythm of the poem, which seems to gather pace as you read it. I remember wanting a ‘big, red india-rubber ball' myself after reading this, and feeling quite sorry for King John hanging his ‘hopeful stocking' out. It works well alongside Good King Wenceslas in a reading group, and I usually find that although King John is ‘not a good man', people feel affection for him and connect to something in this poem, perhaps his resilient hopefulness or the real anxiety which ‘bedews his brow', or more likely the authentic lurching between these two states.

King John's Christmas

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 live aloof;
Alone he thought a message out
While climbing up the roof.
He wrote it down and propped it
Against the chimney stack:
F. Christmas in particular."
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 this 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 had for years."

"Forget about the crackers,
And forget 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!
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!


A. A. Milne

12 thoughts on “Featured Poem: King John’s Christmas by A. A. Milne

[…] Featured Poem: King John’s Christmas by A. A. Milne December 2008 2 comments 3 […]

[…] A.A. Milne’s King John’s Christmas about Bad King John of England or just a fictional king of England named […]

[…] Christmas King John wants a “big, red, india-rubber ball!” You can read the rest of the poem here; to see the poem with its original pictures, click […]

Nick Yapp says:

I’ve arrived at your website over three years too late. King John is one of the best poems ever written by anyone anywhere because it is so moving – it makes me cry just to think of it.

karl blau says:

I have always enjoyed A.A. Milne and his verse. My favourite is James James Morrison Morrison.

p mattison says:

Shame you couldn’t get the words right. What happened to the line at the end ‘ And I have got a pocket knife, that almost cuts’?

p mattison says:

Sorry, my comment should have read ‘and I haven’t got a pocket knife, not one that cuts’

I really think this amazing blog , “Featured Poem: King John’s Christmas by A. A. Milne « The Reader Online”, pretty entertaining and the blog post was in fact a great read. I appreciate it-Otis

[…] recipe and the second I tried and failed to make my own recipe and ended up with India Rubber Balls, King John would have been pleased with, even if they weren’t […]

[…] it goes on for another page and a half so if you’d like to read it there’ll be a link just here (hopefully). I loved this poem but always wondered why “King John was not a good man”, and by […]

jaceysmum says:

In the ninth verse you’ve missed out a couple of lines – “I haven’t got a pocket knife – not one that cuts!” Otherwise, lovely – I have always adored this poem and wept for poor benighted Bad King John.

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