MS (8.4.1929 / Marton, Lancashire)

John Betjeman, Poet

Six distinguished men, soaked to the skin,
others with the ladies following,
a coffin, underslung,
a walk of half a mile along a rough churchgoing path,
the coffin swinging like a cradle,
in driving Cornish rain;
an almost merry funeral,
green and flowered with thought,
full of the memory of laughter

There’s a photo – he's
about two or three years old –
this is a child born
with fear on his face
at having been born
to death; (the cradle
swinging like a coffin) :
instead of looking at the
birdie in the camera, it’s the void he sees.

how to fill the intervening years?
walking just as Pooh Bear walks,
(his beloved, patched teddy bear
which accompanied him for life
had taught him how to walk)
solemn, careful, tubby, smallish steps,
hopping across a road
as if civilisation had taken him by surprise;
squashed pork pie hat concealing
lugubrious face, immobile, melancholy
when not exploding into laughter;
laughter, beauty, won the day.

how to fill the intervening years?
with the gaiety of company, love of women,
declarations of love and offers of marriage,
love affairs for all of ten minutes, sometimes lifelong;
with beauty, observation, comedy; the gift
of finding life one long party is perhaps of those
who've not forgotten death;

a sad face walking so alone,
leaving behind him in the lightest verse,
which won a nation's laurelled love, writing of
the absurdities of class, the built beauty of
a nation’s heritage, washed by sea and custom,
wind and Cornish rocks and shore;
an unspoken magnificence; hints of eternity;
joy; delight, and eloquence; and laughter.

Six distinguished men, soaked to the skin,
others with the ladies following,
a coffin, underslung,
a walk of half a mile along a rough churchending path,
the coffin swinging like a cradle,
in driving Cornish rain;
an almost merry funeral,
green and flowered with thought,
full of the memory of laughter.

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