by Joseph Malins (1895)

This poem is referred to in the second of the reports on Asset-Based Community Development…

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 pleasant.
The people said something would have to be done.
But the projects did not at all tally.
Some said “Put a fence round the edge of the cliff”.
Some, “An ambulance down in the valley”.

The lament of the crowd was profound and was loud,?
As the tears overflowed with their pity,?
But the cry for the ambulance carried the day?
As it spread through the neighbouring city.?
A collection was made, to accumulate aid,?
And the dwellers in highway and alley.?
Gave dollars and cents – not to furnish a fence?
But an ambulance down in the valley.

“For the cliff is alright, if you’re careful!”, they said;?
“And if folks ever slip and are dropping,?
It isin’t the slipping that hurts them so much,?
As the shock down below – when they’re stopping”?
So for years (we have heard), as these mishaps occurred,?
Quick forth would the rescuers sally,?
To pick up the victims who fell from the cliff,?
With the ambluance down in the valley.

Malins jpegSaid one, in a plea, “It’s a marvel to me,?
That you all give so much greater attention,
?To repairing results than to curing the cause;?
You had much better aim at prevention.?
For the mischief, of course, should be stopped at its source;?
Come, neighbours and friends, let us rally.
?It is far better sense, to put up a fence,?
than an ambulance down in the valley!”.

“He is wrong in his head!”, the majority said,
?”He would end all our earnest endeavour,?
He’s a man who would shirk the responsible work?
But we will support it forever.?
Aren’t we picking up all, just as fast as they fall,?
And giving them care liberally??
A superfluous fence, is of no consequence,
?If the ambulance works in the valley.”

The story looks queer, as we’ve written it here,?
But things oft occur that are stranger,?
More humane, we assert, than to succour the hurt,
?Is the plan of removing the danger.?
The best possible course is to safeguard the source?
By attending to things rationally.?
Yes build up the fence, and let us dispense,?
With the ambulance down in the valley…

For more on the unusual life of the temperance activist Joseph Malins (the guy with the long white beard in the car, we think) who wrote a hymn called We’ll make the foe retreat, boys, see

An alternative final verse:

Better guide 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 gallery
Better put a strong fence round the top of the cliff
Than an ambulance down in the valley.