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Best Famous John Betjeman Poems

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by John Betjeman |

Verses Turned...

 Across the wet November night
The church is bright with candlelight
And waiting Evensong.
A single bell with plaintive strokes Pleads louder than the stirring oaks The leafless lanes along.
It calls the hoirboys from their tea And villagers, the two or three, Damp down the kitchen fire, Let out the cat, and up the lane Go paddling through the gentle rain Of misty Oxfordshire.
How warm the many candles shine Of Samuel Dowbiggin's design For this interior neat, These high box pews of Georgian days Which screen us from the public gaze When we make answer meet; How gracefully their shadow falls On bold pilasters down the walls And on the pulpit high.
The chandeliers would twinkle gold As pre-Tractarian sermons roll'd Doctrinal, sound and dry.
From that west gallery no doubt The viol and serpent tooted out The Tallis tune to Ken, And firmly at the end of prayers The clerk below the pulpit stairs Would thunder out "Amen.
" But every wand'ring thought will cease Before the noble alterpiece With carven swags array'd, For there in letters all may read The Lord's Commandments, Prayer and Creed, And decently display'd.
On country morningd sharp and clear The penitent in faith draw near And kneeling here below Partake the heavenly banquet spread Of sacremental Wine and Bread And Jesus' presence know.
And must that plaintive bell in vain Plead loud along the dripping lane? And must the building fall? Not while we love the church and live And of our charity will give Our much, our more, our all.


by John Betjeman |

Westgate-On-Sea

 Hark, I hear the bells of Westgate,
I will tell you what they sigh,
Where those minarets and steeples
Prick the open Thanet sky.
Happy bells of eighteen-ninety, Bursting from your freestone tower! Recalling laurel, shrubs and privet, Red geraniums in flower.
Feet that scamper on the asphalt Through the Borough Council grass, Till they hide inside the shelter Bright with ironwork and glass, Striving chains of ordered children Purple by the sea-breeze made, Striving on to prunes and suet Past the shops on the Parade.
Some with wire around their glasses, Some with wire across their teeth, Writhing frames for running noses And the drooping lip beneath.
Church of England bells of Westgate! On this balcony I stand, White the woodwork wriggles round me, Clocktowers rise on either hand.
For me in my timber arbour You have one more message yet, "Plimsolls, plimsolls in the summer, Oh galoshes in the wet!"


by John Betjeman |

Back From Australia

 Cocooned in Time, at this inhuman height,
The packaged food tastes neutrally of clay,
We never seem to catch the running day
But travel on in everlasting night
With all the chic accoutrements of flight:
Lotions and essences in neat array
And yet another plastic cup and tray.
"Thank you so much.
Oh no, I'm quite all right".
At home in Cornwall hurrying autumn skies Leave Bray Hill barren, Stepper jutting bare, And hold the moon above the sea-wet sand.
The very last of late September dies In frosty silence and the hills declare How vast the sky is, looked at from the land.


by John Betjeman |

The Cottage Hospital

 At the end of a long-walled garden in a red provincial town,
A brick path led to a mulberry- scanty grass at its feet.
I lay under blackening branches where the mulberry leaves hung down Sheltering ruby fruit globes from a Sunday-tea-time heat.
Apple and plum espaliers basked upon bricks of brown; The air was swimming with insects, and children played in the street.
Out of this bright intentness into the mulberry shade Musca domestica (housefly) swung from the August light Slap into slithery rigging by the waiting spider made Which spun the lithe elastic till the fly was shrouded tight.
Down came the hairy talons and horrible poison blade And none of the garden noticed that fizzing, hopeless fight.
Say in what Cottage Hospital whose pale green walls resound With the tap upon polished parquet of inflexible nurses' feet Shall I myself by lying when they range the screens around? And say shall I groan in dying, as I twist the sweaty sheet? Or gasp for breath uncrying, as I feel my senses drown'd While the air is swimming with insects and children play in the street?


by John Betjeman |

Trebetherick

 We used to picnic where the thrift
Grew deep and tufted to the edge;
We saw the yellow foam flakes drift
In trembling sponges on the ledge
Below us, till the wind would lift
Them up the cliff and o’er the hedge.
Sand in the sandwiches, wasps in the tea, Sun on our bathing dresses heavy with the wet, Squelch of the bladder-wrack waiting for the sea, Fleas around the tamarisk, an early cigarette.
From where the coastguard houses stood One used to see below the hill, The lichened branches of a wood In summer silver cool and still; And there the Shade of Evil could Stretch out at us from Shilla Mill.
Thick with sloe and blackberry, uneven in the light, Lonely round the hedge, the heavy meadow was remote, The oldest part of Cornwall was the wood as black as night, And the pheasant and the rabbit lay torn open at the throat.
But when a storm was at its height, And feathery slate was black in rain, And tamarisks were hung with light And golden sand was brown again, Spring tide and blizzard would unite And sea come flooding up the lane.
Waves full of treasure then were roaring up the beach, Ropes round our mackintoshes, waders warm and dry, We waited for the wreckage to come swirling into reach, Ralph, Vasey, Alistair, Biddy, John and I.
Then roller into roller curled And thundered down the rocky bay, And we were in a water world Of rain and blizzard, sea and spray, And one against the other hurled We struggled round to Greenaway.
Bless?d be St Enodoc, bless?d be the wave, Bless?d be the springy turf, we pray, pray to thee, Ask for our children all happy days you gave To Ralph, Vasey, Alistair, Biddy, John and me.


by John Betjeman |

A Bay In Anglesey

 The sleepy sound of a tea-time tide
Slaps at the rocks the sun has dried,

Too lazy, almost, to sink and lift
Round low peninsulas pink with thrift.
The water, enlarging shells and sand, Grows greener emerald out from land And brown over shadowy shelves below The waving forests of seaweed show.
Here at my feet in the short cliff grass Are shells, dried bladderwrack, broken glass, Pale blue squills and yellow rock roses.
The next low ridge that we climb discloses One more field for the sheep to graze While, scarcely seen on this hottest of days, Far to the eastward, over there, Snowdon rises in pearl-grey air.
Multiple lark-song, whispering bents, The thymy, turfy and salty scents And filling in, brimming in, sparkling and free The sweet susurration of incoming sea.


by John Betjeman |

Winter Seascape

 The sea runs back against itself
With scarcely time for breaking wave
To cannonade a slatey shelf
And thunder under in a cave.
Before the next can fully burst The headwind, blowing harder still, Smooths it to what it was at first - A slowly rolling water-hill.
Against the breeze the breakers haste, Against the tide their ridges run And all the sea's a dappled waste Criss-crossing underneath the sun.
Far down the beach the ripples drag Blown backward, rearing from the shore, And wailing gull and shrieking shag Alone can pierce the ocean roar.
Unheard, a mongrel hound gives tongue, Unheard are shouts of little boys; What chance has any inland lung Against this multi-water noise? Here where the cliffs alone prevail I stand exultant, neutral, free, And from the cushion of the gale Behold a huge consoling sea.


by John Betjeman |

Winter Landscape

 The three men coming down the winter hill
In brown, with tall poles and a pack of hounds
At heel, through the arrangement of the trees,
Past the five figures at the burning straw,
Returning cold and silent to their town,
Returning to the drifted snow, the rink
Lively with children, to the older men,
The long companions they can never reach,
The blue light, men with ladders, by the church
The sledge and shadow in the twilit street,
Are not aware that in the sandy time
To come, the evil waste of history
Outstretched, they will be seen upon the brow
Of that same hill: when all their company
Will have been irrecoverably lost,
These men, this particular three in brown
Witnessed by birds will keep the scene and say
By their configuration with the trees,
The small bridge, the red houses and the fire,
What place, what time, what morning occasion
Sent them into the wood, a pack of hounds
At heel and the tall poles upon their shoulders,
Thence to return as now we see them and
Ankle-deep in snow down the winter hill
Descend, while three birds watch and the fourth flies.


by John Betjeman |

An Edwardian Sunday Broomhill Sheffield

 High dormers are rising
So sharp and surprising,
And ponticum edges
The driveways of gravel;
Stone houses from ledges
Look down on ravines.
The vision can travel From gable to gable, Italianate mansion And turretted stable, A sylvan expansion So varied and jolly Where laurel and holly Commingle their greens.
Serene on a Sunday The sun glitters hotly O'er mills that on Monday With engines will hum.
By tramway excursion To Dore and to Totley In search of diversion The millworkers come; But in our arboreta The sounds are discreeter Of shoes upon stone - The worshippers wending To welcoming chapel, Companioned or lone; And over a pew there See loveliness lean, As Eve shows her apple Through rich bombazine; What love is born new there In blushing eighteen! Your prospects will please her, The iron-king's daughter, Up here on Broomhill; Strange Hallamshire, County Of dearth and of bounty, Of brown tumbling water And furnace and mill.
Your own Ebenezer Looks down from his height On back street and alley And chemical valley Laid out in the light; On ugly and pretty Where industry thrives In this hill-shadowed city Of razors and knives.


by John Betjeman |

Dilton Marsh Halt

 Was it worth keeping the Halt open,
We thought as we looked at the sky
Red through the spread of the cedar-tree,
With the evening train gone by?

Yes, we said, for in summer the anglers use it,
Two and sometimes three
Will bring their catches of rods and poles and perches
To Westbury, home for tea.
There isn't a porter.
The platform is made of sleepers.
The guard of the last train puts out the light And high over lorries and cattle the Halt unwinking Waits through the Wiltshire night.
O housewife safe in the comprehensive churning Of the Warminster launderette! O husband down at the depot with car in car-park! The Halt is waiting yet.
And when all the horrible roads are finally done for, And there's no more petrol left in the world to burn, Here to the Halt from Salisbury and from Bristol Steam trains will return.