A Fence or An Ambulance

T’was a dangerous cliff as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its edge was so pleasant,
But over its edge 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 around the edge of the cliff,”
Others, “An ambulance down in the valley.”

The lament of the crowd was profound and loud,
As their hearts overflowed with their pity;
But the ambulance carried the cry of the day,
As it spread to the neighboring cities,
So a collection was made to accumulate aid,
And 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 all right if you’re careful”, they said,
“And if folks ever slip and are falling;
It’s not the slipping and falling that hurts them so much,
As the shock down below when they’re stopping.”
And so for the years as these mishaps occurred,
Quick forth would the rescuers sally,
To pick up the victims who fell from the cliff,
With the ambulance down in the valley.

Said one in his plea, “It’s a marvel to me
That you’d give so much greater attention,
To repairing results than to curing the cause;
Why you’d much better aim at prevention.
For the mischief of course, should be stopped at its source;
Come friends and neighbors let us rally!
It makes far better sense to rely on a fence,
Than an ambulance down in the valley.”

“He’s wrong in his head,” the majority said.
“He would end all our earnest endeavors.
He’s the kind of a man that would shirk his 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?
Why, a superfluous fence is of no consequence,
If the ambulance works in the valley.”

Now this story seems queer, as I’ve given it here,
But things oft occur which are stranger.
More humane we assert to repair the hurt,
Than the plan of removing the danger.
The best possible course would be to safeguard the source,
And to attend to things rationally.
Yes, build up the fence and let us dispense,
With the ambulance down in the valley.

—Joseph Malins (1844–1926), temperance activist - 1895