Monday, 19 May 2008

Remembering John Betjeman

On David Pike's deliciously crammed with allsorts Pulsar Poetry website (see P-i-R's handy link in sidebar) there is amongst all the paraphernalia a photograph of John Betjeman's gravestone. We may look at this today and pay our respects, for it's exactly 24 years since the son of a Dutch-descended manufacturer of household objects (as Nicholas Albery described him) kicked the proverbial bucket.
William Plomer summed-up JB this way: "His lifelong affair with Edwardian England included old churches, old railways, old gaslit streets, old country-towns, old dons, and old invalids...[gave] him a distaste for much of what is supposed to represent progress."
Poet-in-Residence considers there is no better way to mark the day than to turn once again to Betjeman's famous and oft quoted poem:


Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough
It isn't fit for humans now,
There isn't grass to graze a cow
Swarm over, Death!

Come, bombs, and blow to smithereens
Those air-conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk,
tinned beans
Tinned minds, tinned breath.

Mess up the mess they call a town -
A house for ninety-seven down
And once a week a half-a-crown
For twenty years,

And get that man with double chin
Who'll always cheat and always win,
Who washed his repulsive skin
in women's tears,

And smash his desk of polished oak
And smash his hands so used to stroke
And stop his boring dirty joke
And make him yell.

But spare the bald young clerks who add
The profits of the stinking cad;
It's not their fault that they are mad,
They've tasted Hell.

It's not their fault they do not know
The birdsong from the radio,
It's not their fault they often go
To Maidenhead

And talk of sports and makes of cars
In various bogus Tudor bars
And daren't look up and see the stars
But belch instead.

In labour-saving homes, with care
Their wives frizz out peroxide hair
And dry it in synthetic air
And paint their nails.

Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough
To get it ready for the plough.
The cabbages are coming now;
The earth exhales.

John Betjeman (1906-1984)


  1. I like this one...I had to translate it into French for my daughter (in fact, she should have done it really as it was part of her homework!). I even managed to make it rime!

  2. I've never been to Slough - but I recall there's another poem about the town...

    'Slough' by anon


    so maybe it isn't as bad as Sir JB makes out?


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