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Best Famous John Betjeman Poems

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by John Betjeman | |

How To Get On In Society

 Phone for the fish knives, Norman
As cook is a little unnerved;
You kiddies have crumpled the serviettes
And I must have things daintily served.
Are the requisites all in the toilet? The frills round the cutlets can wait Till the girl has replenished the cruets And switched on the logs in the grate.
It's ever so close in the lounge dear, But the vestibule's comfy for tea And Howard is riding on horseback So do come and take some with me Now here is a fork for your pastries And do use the couch for your feet; I know that I wanted to ask you- Is trifle sufficient for sweet? Milk and then just as it comes dear? I'm afraid the preserve's full of stones; Beg pardon, I'm soiling the doileys With afternoon tea-cakes and scones.


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.


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 | |

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 | |

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 | |

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 | |

Meditation on the A30

 A man on his own in a car
Is revenging himself on his wife;
He open the throttle and bubbles with dottle
and puffs at his pitiful life

She's losing her looks very fast,
she loses her temper all day;
that lorry won't let me get past,
this Mini is blocking my way.
"Why can't you step on it and shift her! I can't go on crawling like this! At breakfast she said that she wished I was dead- Thank heavens we don't have to kiss.
"I'ld like a nice blonde on my knee And one who won't argue or nag.
Who dares to come hooting at me? I only give way to a Jag.
"You're barmy or plastered, I'll pass you, you bastard- I will overtake you.
I will!" As he clenches his pipe, his moment is ripe And the corner's accepting its kill.


by John Betjeman | |

Sun and Fun

 I walked into the night-club in the morning; 
There was kummel on the handle of the door.
The ashtrays were unemptied.
The cleaning unattempted, And a squashed tomato sandwich on the floor.
I pulled aside the thick magenta curtains -So Regency, so Regency, my dear – And a host of little spiders Ran a race across the ciders To a box of baby ‘pollies by the beer.
Oh sun upon the summer-going by-pass Where ev’rything is speeding to the sea, And wonder beyond wonder That here where lorries thunder The sun should ever percolate to me.
When Boris used to call in his Sedanca, When Teddy took me down to his estate When my nose excited passion, When my clothes were in the fashion, When my beaux were never cross if I was late, There was sun enough for lazing upon beaches, There was fun enough for far into the night.
But I’m dying now and done for, What on earth was all the fun for? For I’m old and ill and terrified and tight.


by John Betjeman | |

In A Bath Teashop

 "Let us not speak, for the love we bear one another—
Let us hold hands and look.
" She such a very ordinary little woman; He such a thumping crook; But both, for a moment, little lower than the angels In the teashop's ingle-nook.


by John Betjeman | |

Mortality

 The first-class brains of a senior civil servant
Shiver and shatter and fall
As the steering column of his comfortable Humber
Batters in the bony wall.
All those delicate re-adjustments "On the one hand, if we proceed With the ad hoc policy hitherto adapted To individual need.
.
.
On the other hand, too rigid an arrangement Might, of itself, perforce.
.
.
I would like to submit for the Minister's concurrence The following alternative course, Subject to revision and reconsideration In the light of our experience gains.
.
.
" And this had to happen at the corner where the by-pass Comes into Egham out of Staines.
That very near miss for an All Souls' Fellowship The recent compensation of a 'K' - The first-class brains of a senior civil servant Are sweetbread on the road today.


by John Betjeman | |

Harrow-on-the-Hill

 When melancholy Autumn comes to Wembley
And electric trains are lighted after tea
The poplars near the stadium are trembly
With their tap and tap and whispering to me,
Like the sound of little breakers
Spreading out along the surf-line
When the estuary's filling
With the sea.
Then Harrow-on-the-Hill's a rocky island And Harrow churchyard full of sailor's graves And the constant click and kissing of the trolley buses hissing Is the level of the Wealdstone turned to waves And the rumble of the railway Is the thunder of the rollers As they gather for the plunging Into caves There's a storm cloud to the westward over Kenton, There's a line of harbour lights at Perivale, Is it rounding rough Pentire in a flood of sunset fire The little fleet of trawlers under sail? Can those boats be only roof tops As they stream along the skyline In a race for port and Padstow With the gale?


by John Betjeman | |

Devonshire Street W.1

 The heavy mahogany door with its wrought-iron screen
 Shuts.
And the sound is rich, sympathetic, discreet.
The sun still shines on this eighteenth-century scene With Edwardian faience adornment -- Devonshire Street.
No hope.
And the X-ray photographs under his arm Confirm the message.
His wife stands timidly by.
The opposite brick-built house looks lofty and calm Its chimneys steady against the mackerel sky.
No hope.
And the iron knob of this palisade So cold to the touch, is luckier now than he "Oh merciless, hurrying Londoners! Why was I made For the long and painful deathbed coming to me?" She puts her fingers in his, as, loving and silly At long-past Kensington dances she used to do "It's cheaper to take the tube to Piccadilly And then we can catch a nineteen or twenty-two".


by John Betjeman | |

Five OClock Shadow

 This is the time of day when we in the Mens's ward
Think "one more surge of the pain and I give up the fight.
" Whe he who strggles for breath can struggle less strongly: This is the time of day which is worse than night.
A haze of thunder hangs on the hospital rose-beds, A doctors' foursome out of the links is played, Safe in her sitting-room Sister is putting her feet up: This is the time of day when we feel betrayed.
Below the windows, loads of loving relations Rev in the car park, changing gear at the bend, Making for home and a nice big tea and the telly: "Well, we've done what we can.
It can't be long till the end.
" This is the time of day when the weight of bedclothes Is harder to bear than a sharp incision of steel.
The endless anonymous croak of a cheap transistor Intesifies the lonely terror I feel.


by John Betjeman | |

Senex

 Oh would I could subdue the flesh
Which sadly troubles me! 
And then perhaps could view the flesh
As though I never knew the flesh
And merry misery.
To see the golden hiking girl With wind about her hair, The tennis-playing, biking girl, The wholly-to-my-liking girl, To see and not to care.
At sundown on my tricycle I tour the Borough’s edge, And icy as an icicle See bicycle by bicycle Stacked waiting in the hedge.
Get down from me! I thunder there, You spaniels! Shut your jaws! Your teeth are stuffed with underwear, Suspenders torn asunder there And buttocks in your paws! Oh whip the dogs away my Lord, They make me ill with lust.
Bend bare knees down to pray, my Lord, Teach sulky lips to say, my Lord, That flaxen hair is dust.


by John Betjeman | |

Dawlish

 Bird-watching colonels on the old sea wall,
Down here at Dawlish where the slow trains crawl:
Low tide lifting, on a shingle shore,
Long-sunk islands from the sea once more:
Red cliffs rising where the wet sands run,
Gulls reflecting in the sharp spring sun;
Pink-washed plaster by a sheltered patch,
Ilex shadows upon velvet thatch:
What interiors those names suggest!
Queen of lodgings in the warm south-west.
.
.
.


by John Betjeman | |

The Licorice Fields at Pontefract

 In the licorice fields at Pontefract
My love and I did meet
And many a burdened licorice bush
Was blooming round our feet;
Red hair she had and golden skin,
Her sulky lips were shaped for sin,
Her sturdy legs were flannel-slack'd
The strongest legs in Pontefract.
The light and dangling licorice flowers Gave off the sweetest smells; From various black Victorian towers The Sunday evening bells Came pealing over dales and hills And tanneries and silent mills And lowly streets where country stops And little shuttered corner shops.
She cast her blazing eyes on me And plucked a licorice leaf; I was her captive slave and she My red-haired robber chief.
Oh love! for love I could not speak, It left me winded, wilting, weak, And held in brown arms strong and bare And wound with flaming ropes of hair.


by John Betjeman | |

The Plantsters Vision

 Cut down that timber! Bells, too many and strong,
 Pouring their music through the branches bare,
 From moon-white church towers down the windy air
Have pealed the centuries out with Evensong.
Remove those cottages, a huddled throng! Too many babies have been born in there, Too many coffins, bumping down the stair, Carried the old their garden paths along.
I have a Vision of the Future, chum, The workers' flats in fields of soya beans Tower up like silver pencils, score on score: And Surging Millions hear the Challenge come From microphones in communal canteens "No Right! No Wrong! All's perfect, evermore!"


by John Betjeman | |

Lenten Thoughts of a High Anglican

 Isn't she lovely, "the Mistress"?
With her wide-apart grey-green eyes,
The droop of her lips and, when she smiles,
Her glance of amused surprise?

How nonchalantly she wears her clothes,
How expensive they are as well!
And the sound of her voice is as soft and deep
As the Christ Church tenor bell.
But why do I call her "the Mistress" Who know not her way of life? Because she has more of a cared-for air Than many a legal wife.
How elegantly she swings along In the vapoury incense veil; The angel choir must pause in song When she kneels at the altar rail.
The parson said that we shouldn't stare Around when we come to church, Or the Unknown God we are seeking May forever elude our search.
But I hope that the preacher will not think It unorthodox and odd If I add that I glimpse in "the Mistress" A hint of the Unknown God.


by John Betjeman | |

South London Sketch

 From Bermondsey to Wandsworth
So many churches are,
Some with apsidal chancels,
Some Perpendicular
And schools by E.
R.
Robson In the style of Norman Shaw Where blue-serged adolescence learn'd To model and to draw.
Oh, in among the houses, The viaduct below, Stood the Coffee Essence Factory Of Robinson and Co.
Burnt and brown and tumbled down And done with years ago Where the waters of the Wandle do Lugubriously flow.
From dust of dead explosions From scarlet-hearted fires, All unconcerned this train draws in And smoothly that retires And calmly rise on smoky skies Of intersected wires The Nonconformist spirelets And the Church of England spires.


by John Betjeman | |

Upper Lambourne

 Up the ash tree climbs the ivy,
Up the ivy climbs the sun,
With a twenty-thousand pattering,
Has a valley breeze begun,
Feathery ash, neglected elder,
Shift the shade and make it run -

Shift the shade toward the nettles,
And the nettles set it free,
To streak the stained Carrara headstone,
Where, in nineteen-twenty-three,
He who trained a hundred winners,
Paid the Final Entrance Fee.
Leathery limbs of Upper Lambourne, Leathery skin from sun and wind, Leathery breeches, spreading stables, Shining saddles left behind - To the down the string of horses Moving out of sight and mind.
Feathery ash in leathery Lambourne Waves above the sarsen stone, And Edwardian plantations So coniferously moan As to make the swelling downland, Far surrounding, seem their own.