A Fence or an Ambulance?

Public Health

‘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 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”

Some,  “An ambulance down in the valley.”

Ambulance or fence?


But the cry for the ambulance carried the day.

For it spread to the neighbouring city:

A fence may be useful or not, it is true,

But each heart became brimful of pity

For those who had slipped o’er 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 alright if you’re careful,” they said,

“and if folks even slip or 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 when these mishaps occurred,

Quick forth would the rescuers sally

To pick up the victims who fell off the cliff,

With their ambulance down in the valley.


Then an old man 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 neighbours 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 politicians 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 would 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 thinking will soon be the stronger.

Encourage them, then with your purse, voice and pen

And (while other philanthropists dally)

They will scorn all pretence, and put up a stout fence

On the cliff that hangs over the valley.


Joseph Malins (1895)