28 August 2017 Susannah

John Betjeman – English poet, born on 28 August 1906

John Betjeman quote by Susannah Fullerton

HAPPY BIRTHDAY – John Betjeman, born 28 August 1906

A Subaltern’s Love Song
poem by John Betjeman

John Betjeman

John Betjeman in 1961

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! Surrey 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.

Few poets have ever enjoyed such success with the public as John Betjeman. He became Poet Laureate, and took his verse to the masses with his broadcasting. He also gained fame as the owner of a teddy bear called Archibald, which inspired Sebastian Flyte’s bear in Brideshead Revisited. You can buy CDs with Betjeman reading his own works, and you can follow in his footsteps in Cornwall, his favourite part of England.

Towards the end of his life, Betjeman sufferend from Parkinsons Disease and he died on 19 May 1984, aged 77. I love the place where he is buried – St Enodoc Church at Trebetherick. You have to walk across a golf course to find the historic church, half buried in the dunes, and his ornate gravestone is just outside the church door. John Betjeman is a good poet for those who have not yet fallen in love with poetry – he might well convert you!

Please enjoy this reading of A Subaltern’s Love Song by the mysterious Tom O’Bedlam.

What do you think of this poem? Tell me in the comment area below.

  Poem of the Month: December 2016 – The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel by Sir John Betjeman
   John Betjeman Collected Poems by John Betjeman
   John Betjeman Collected Poems (Audio) by John Betjeman, Phyllida Nash (Read by), Tom Lawrence (Read by), Clare Corbett (Read by)

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Body image credit- John Betjeman from Daily Herald Archive at the National Media Museum https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25140318

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