Submit Your Poems
Get Your Premium Membership

CreationEarth Nature Photos

Best Famous John Betjeman Poems

Here is a collection of the all-time best famous John Betjeman poems. This is a select list of the best famous John Betjeman poetry. Reading, writing, and enjoying famous John Betjeman poetry (as well as classical and contemporary poems) is a great past time. These top poems are the best examples of John Betjeman poems.

Search for the best famous John Betjeman poems, articles about John Betjeman poems, poetry blogs, or anything else John Betjeman poem related using the PoetrySoup search engine at the top of the page.

See also:

Famous poems below this ad
Written by John Betjeman |

Diary of a Church Mouse

 Here among long-discarded cassocks,
Damp stools, and half-split open hassocks,
Here where the vicar never looks
I nibble through old service books.
Lean and alone I spend my days Behind this Church of England baize.
I share my dark forgotten room With two oil-lamps and half a broom.
The cleaner never bothers me, So here I eat my frugal tea.
My bread is sawdust mixed with straw; My jam is polish for the floor.
Christmas and Easter may be feasts For congregations and for priests, And so may Whitsun.
All the same, They do not fill my meagre frame.
For me the only feast at all Is Autumn's Harvest Festival, When I can satisfy my want With ears of corn around the font.
I climb the eagle's brazen head To burrow through a loaf of bread.
I scramble up the pulpit stair And gnaw the marrows hanging there.
It is enjoyable to taste These items ere they go to waste, But how annoying when one finds That other mice with pagan minds Come into church my food to share Who have no proper business there.
Two field mice who have no desire To be baptized, invade the choir.
A large and most unfriendly rat Comes in to see what we are at.
He says he thinks there is no God And yet he comes .
it's rather odd.
This year he stole a sheaf of wheat (It screened our special preacher's seat), And prosperous mice from fields away Come in to hear our organ play, And under cover of its notes Ate through the altar's sheaf of oats.
A Low Church mouse, who thinks that I Am too papistical, and High, Yet somehow doesn't think it wrong To munch through Harvest Evensong, While I, who starve the whole year through, Must share my food with rodents who Except at this time of the year Not once inside the church appear.
Within the human world I know Such goings-on could not be so, For human beings only do What their religion tells them to.
They read the Bible every day And always, night and morning, pray, And just like me, the good church mouse, Worship each week in God's own house, But all the same it's strange to me How very full the church can be With people I don't see at all Except at Harvest Festival.

Written by John Betjeman |


 The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.
The holly in the windy hedge And round the Manor House the yew Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge, The altar, font and arch and pew, So that the villagers can say 'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day.
Provincial Public Houses blaze, Corporation tramcars clang, On lighted tenements I gaze, Where paper decorations hang, And bunting in the red Town Hall Says 'Merry Christmas to you all'.
And London shops on Christmas Eve Are strung with silver bells and flowers As hurrying clerks the City leave To pigeon-haunted classic towers, And marbled clouds go scudding by The many-steepled London sky.
And girls in slacks remember Dad, And oafish louts remember Mum, And sleepless children's hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say 'Come!' Even to shining ones who dwell Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.
And is it true, This most tremendous tale of all, Seen in a stained-glass window's hue, A Baby in an ox's stall ? The Maker of the stars and sea Become a Child on earth for me ? And is it true ? For if it is, No loving fingers tying strings Around those tissued fripperies, The sweet and silly Christmas things, Bath salts and inexpensive scent And hideous tie so kindly meant, No love that in a family dwells, No carolling in frosty air, Nor all the steeple-shaking bells Can with this single Truth compare - That God was man in Palestine And lives today in Bread and Wine.

Written 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.

More great poems below...

Written by John Betjeman |

The Last Laugh

 I made hay while the sun shone.
My work sold.
Now, if the harvest is over And the world cold, Give me the bonus of laughter As I lose hold.

Written 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.

Written 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.

Written by John Betjeman |


 The clock is frozen in the tower,
The thickening fog with sooty smell
Has blanketed the motor power
Which turns the London streets to hell;
And footsteps with their lonely sound
Intensify the silence round.
I haven't hope.
I haven't faith.
I live two lives and sometimes three.
The lives I live make life a death For those who have to live with me.
Knowing the virtues that I lack, I pat myself upon the back.
With breastplate of self-righteousness And shoes of smugness on my feet, Before the urge in me grows less I hurry off to make retreat.
For somewhere, somewhere, burns a light To lead me out into the night.
It glitters icy, thin and plain, And leads me down to Waterloo- Into a warm electric train Which travels sorry Surrey through And crystal-hung, the clumps of pine Stand deadly still beside the line.

Written by John Betjeman |

South London Sketch

 From Bermondsey to Wandsworth
So many churches are,
Some with apsidal chancels,
Some Perpendicular
And schools by E.
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.

Written by John Betjeman |


 The last year's leaves are on the beech:
The twigs are black; the cold is dry;
To deeps byond the deepest reach
The Easter bells enlarge the sky.
O ordered metal clatter-clang! Is yours the song the angels sang? You fill my heart with joy and grief - Belief! Belief! And unbelief.
And, though you tell me I shall die, You say not how or when or why.
Indifferent the finches sing, Unheeding roll the lorries past: What misery will this year bring Now spring is in the air at last? For, sure as blackthorn bursts to snow, Cancer in some of us will grow, The tasteful crematorium door Shuts out for some the furnace roar; But church-bells open on the blast Our loneliness, so long and vast.

Written by John Betjeman |


 Kind o’er the kinderbank leans my Myfanwy,
White o’er the playpen the sheen of her dress,
Fresh from the bathroom and soft in the nursery
Soap scented fingers I long to caress.
Were you a prefect and head of your dormit'ry? Were you a hockey girl, tennis or gym? Who was your favourite? Who had a crush on you? Which were the baths where they taught you to swim? Smooth down the Avenue glitters the bicycle, Black-stockinged legs under navy blue serge, Home and Colonial, Star, International, Balancing bicycle leant on the verge.
Trace me your wheel-tracks, you fortunate bicycle, Out of the shopping and into the dark, Back down the avenue, back to the pottingshed, Back to the house on the fringe of the park.
Golden the light on the locks of Myfanwy, Golden the light on the book on her knee, Finger marked pages of Rackham's Hans Anderson, Time for the children to come down to tea.
Oh! Fullers angel-cake, Robertson’s marmalade, Liberty lampshade, come shine on us all, My! what a spread for the friends of Myfanwy, Some in the alcove and some in the hall.
Then what sardines in half-lighted passages! Locking of fingers in long hide-and-seek.
You will protect me, my silken Myfanwy, Ring leader, tom-boy, and chum to the weak.

Written by John Betjeman |

The Olympic Girl

 The sort of girl I like to see
Smiles down from her great height at me.
She stands in strong, athletic pose And wrinkles her retrouss? nose.
Is it distaste that makes her frown, So furious and freckled, down On an unhealthy worm like me? Or am I what she likes to see? I do not know, though much I care, xxxxxxxx.
would I were (Forgive me, shade of Rupert Brooke) An object fit to claim her look.
Oh! would I were her racket press'd With hard excitement to her breast And swished into the sunlit air Arm-high above her tousled hair, And banged against the bounding ball "Oh! Plung!" my tauten'd strings would call, "Oh! Plung! my darling, break my strings For you I will do brilliant things.
" And when the match is over, I Would flop beside you, hear you sigh; And then with what supreme caress, You'd tuck me up into my press.
Fair tigress of the tennis courts, So short in sleeve and strong in shorts, Little, alas, to you I mean, For I am bald and old and green.

Written by John Betjeman |

Ireland With Emily

 Bells are booming down the bohreens,
White the mist along the grass,
Now the Julias, Maeves and Maureens
Move between the fields to Mass.
Twisted trees of small green apple Guard the decent whitewashed chapel, Gilded gates and doorway grained, Pointed windows richly stained With many-coloured Munich glass.
See the black-shawled congregations On the broidered vestment gaze Murmer past the painted stations As Thy Sacred Heart displays Lush Kildare of scented meadows, Roscommon, thin in ash-tree shadows, And Westmeath the lake-reflected, Spreading Leix the hill-protected, Kneeling all in silver haze? In yews and woodbine, walls and guelder, Nettle-deep the faithful rest, Winding leagues of flowering elder, Sycamore with ivy dressed, Ruins in demesnes deserted, Bog-surrounded bramble-skirted - Townlands rich or townlands mean as These, oh, counties of them screen us In the Kingdom of the West.
Stony seaboard, far and foreign, Stony hills poured over space, Stony outcrop of the Burren, Stones in every fertile place, Little fields with boulders dotted, Grey-stone shoulders saffron-spotted, Stone-walled cabins thatched with reeds, Where a Stone Age people breeds The last of Europe's stone age race.
Has it held, the warm June weather? Draining shallow sea-pools dry, When we bicycled together Down the bohreens fuchsia-high.
Till there rose, abrupt and lonely, A ruined abbey, chancel only, Lichen-crusted, time-befriended, Soared the arches, splayed and splendid, Romanesque against the sky.
There in pinnacled protection, One extinguished family waits A Church of Ireland resurrection By the broken, rusty gates.
Sheepswool, straw and droppings cover, Graves of spinster, rake and lover, Whose fantastic mausoleum, Sings its own seablown Te Deum, In and out the slipping slates.

Written by John Betjeman |

A Subalterns Love Song

 Miss J.
Hunter Dunn, Miss J.
Hunter Dunn, Furnish'd and burnish'd by Aldershot sun, What strenuous singles we played after tea, We in the tournament - you against me! Love-thirty, love-forty, oh! weakness of joy, The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy, With carefullest carelessness, gaily you won, I am weak from your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, How mad I am, sad I am, glad that you won, The warm-handled racket is back in its press, But my shock-headed victor, she loves me no less.
Her father's euonymus shines as we walk, And swing past the summer-house, buried in talk, And cool the verandah that welcomes us in To the six-o'clock news and a lime-juice and gin.
The scent of the conifers, sound of the bath, The view from my bedroom of moss-dappled path, As I struggle with double-end evening tie, For we dance at the Golf Club, my victor and I.
On the floor of her bedroom lie blazer and shorts, And the cream-coloured walls are be-trophied with sports, And westering, questioning settles the sun, On your low-leaded window, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.
The Hillman is waiting, the light's in the hall, The pictures of Egypt are bright on the wall, My sweet, I am standing beside the oak stair And there on the landing's the light on your hair.
By roads "not adopted", by woodlanded ways, She drove to the club in the late summer haze, Into nine-o'clock Camberley, heavy with bells And mushroomy, pine-woody, evergreen smells.
Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, I can hear from the car park the dance has begun, Oh! Surry twilight! importunate band! Oh! strongly adorable tennis-girl's hand! Around us are Rovers and Austins afar, Above us the intimate roof of the car, And here on my right is the girl of my choice, With the tilt of her nose and the chime of her voice.
And the scent of her wrap, and the words never said, And the ominous, ominous dancing ahead.
We sat in the car park till twenty to one And now I'm engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

Written 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.

Written by John Betjeman |

Inexpensive Progress

 Encase your legs in nylons,
Bestride your hills with pylons
O age without a soul;
Away with gentle willows
And all the elmy billows
That through your valleys roll.
Let's say goodbye to hedges And roads with grassy edges And winding country lanes; Let all things travel faster Where motor car is master Till only Speed remains.
Destroy the ancient inn-signs But strew the roads with tin signs 'Keep Left,' 'M4,' 'Keep Out!' Command, instruction, warning, Repetitive adorning The rockeried roundabout; For every raw obscenity Must have its small 'amenity,' Its patch of shaven green, And hoardings look a wonder In banks of floribunda With floodlights in between.
Leave no old village standing Which could provide a landing For aeroplanes to roar, But spare such cheap defacements As huts with shattered casements Unlived-in since the war.
Let no provincial High Street Which might be your or my street Look as it used to do, But let the chain stores place here Their miles of black glass facia And traffic thunder through.
And if there is some scenery, Some unpretentious greenery, Surviving anywhere, It does not need protecting For soon we'll be erecting A Power Station there.
When all our roads are lighted By concrete monsters sited Like gallows overhead, Bathed in the yellow vomit Each monster belches from it, We'll know that we are dead.