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BETJEMAN, John


Guilt

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.


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.



Slough

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 washes 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 sport 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.


Executive

I am a young executive. No cuffs than mine are cleaner;

I have a Slimline brief-case and I use the firm's Cortina.

In every roadside hostelry from here to Burgess Hill

The maîtres d'hôtel all know me well, and let me sign the bill.

You ask me what it is I do. Well, actually, you know,

I'm partly a liaison man, and partly P.R.O.

Essentially, I integrate the current export drive

And basically I'm viable from ten o'clock till five.

For vital off-the-record work - that's talking transport-wise -

I've a scarlet Aston-Martin - and does she go? She flies!

Pedestrians and dogs and cats, we mark them down for slaughter.

I also own a speedboat which has never touched the water.

She's built of fibre-glass, of course. I call her 'Mandy Jane'

After a bird I used to know - No soda, please, just plain -

And how did I acquire her? Well, to tell you about that

And to put you in the picture, I must wear my other hat.

I do some mild developing. The sort of place I need

Is a quiet country market town that's rather run to seed

A luncheon and a drink or two, a little savoir faire -

I fix the Planning Officer, the Town Clerk and the Mayor.


And if some Preservationist attempts to interfere

A 'dangerous structure' notice from the Borough Engineer

Will settle any buildings that are standing in our way -

The modern style, sir, with respect, has really come to stay.



Youth and Age on Beaulieu River

Early sun on Beaulieu water
Lights the undersides of oaks,
Clumps of leaves it floods and
All transparent glow the branches
Which the double sunlight soaks;
And to her craft on Beaulieu water
Clemency the General's daughter
Pulls across with even strokes.

Schoolboy sure she is this morning;
Soon her sharpie's rigg'd and free.
Cool beneath a garden awning
Mrs Fairclough sipping tea
And raising large long-distance glasses
As the little sharpie passes,
Sighs our sailor girl to see:

Tulip figure, so appealing,
Oval face, so serious-eyed,
Tree-roots pass'd and muddy beaches,
On to huge and lake-like reaches
Soft and sun-warm, see her glide,
Slacks the slim young limbs revealing,
Sun-brown arm the tiller feeling,
Before the wind and with the tide.

Evening light will bring the water,
Day-long sun will burst the bud,
Clemency, the General's daughter
Will return upon the flood.
But the older woman only
Knows the ebb tide leaves her lonely.
With the shining fields of mud.


Business Girls


From the geyser ventilators

Autumn winds are blowing down

On a thousand business women

Having baths in Camden Town


Waste pipes chuckle into runnels,

Steam's escaping here and there,

Morning trains through Camden cutting

Shake the Crescent and the Square.


Early nip of changeful autumn,

Dahlias glimpsed through garden doors,

At the back precarious bathrooms

Jutting out from upper floors;


And behind their frail partitions

Business women lie and soak,

Seeing through the draughty skylight

Flying clouds and railway smoke.


Rest you there, poor unbelov'd ones,

Lap your loneliness in heat.

All too soon the tiny breakfast,

Trolley-bus and windy street!