philine

12 Jun 2019 26 views
 
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photoblog image John Betjeman was here

John Betjeman was here

 

The poet Sir John Betjeman lived in The Old Rectory (1945 - 1951), a lovely 18th century country house in the small village Farnborough (with only 70 inhabitants today), "which was chosen by experts at Country Life magazine for its "quite exceptional" architecture, beautifully-kept gardens and spectacular views over the Berkshire Downs. The Old Rectory's 4 acre garden is divided into rooms and there are herbaceous borders, woodland and a pool. The garden is open to the public under the National Garden scheme."

 

I was really impressed with these wonderful garden rooms and the hospitality of the lady who welcomed us with some refresahments (the best fruit cake I ever enjoyed). I especially loved walking the path through the highly fragrant wild garlic wood with view down on a valley and a pond - and I loved the white doves sitting on  the roof, symbols of peace and hope (see also the horse shoes).  Yes, this place might be a kind of paradise on earth as I said to the owner lady, and she noded her head.

 

But when the couple, John Betjeman and his wife, arrived there, this country house, owned by the church until 1945, "had no electricity or running water and the poet described it as "dirty; but classy looking inside". He later boasted that the top floor of the house was the highest inhabited place in Berkshire.

Betjeman, who later became Poet Laureate, also believed he and his wife were single-handedly keeping the village together. He wrote to fellow writer Evelyn Waugh in 1947: "In villages people still follow a lead and we are the only people here who will give a lead. I know that to desert this wounded and neglected church would be to betray Our Lord."

 

One of John Betjeman's best poems:

 

Archibald

 

The bear who sits above my bed
A doleful bear he is to see;
From out his drooping pear-shaped head
His woollen eyes look into me.
He has no mouth, but seems to say:
‘They’ll burn you on the Judgement Day.’

 

Those woollen eyes, the things they’ve seen;
Those flannel ears, the things they’ve heard—
Among horse-chestnut fans of green
The fluting on an April bird,
And quarrelling downstairs until
Doors slammed at Thirty One West Hill.

 

The dreaded evening keyhole scratch
Announcing some return below,
The nursery landing’s lifted latch,
The punishment to undergo:
Still I could smooth those half-moon ears
And wet that forehead with my tears.

 

Whatever rush to catch a train,
Whatever joy there was to share
Of sounding sea-board, rainbowed rain,
Or seaweed-scented Cornish air,
Sharing the laughs, you still were there,
You ugly, unrepentant bear.

 

When nine, I hid you in a loft
And dared not let you share my bed;
My father would have thought me soft,
Or so, at least, my mother said.
She only then our secret knew,
And thus my guilty passion grew.

 

The bear who sits above my bed
More agèd now is he to see:
His woollen eyes have thinner thread,
But still he seems to say to me,
In double-doom notes, like a knell:
‘You’re half a century nearer Hell.’

 

Self-pity shrouds me in a mist,
And drowns me in my self-esteem.
The freckled faces I have kissed
Float by me in a guilty dream.
The only constant, sitting there,
Patient and hairless, is a bear.

 

And if an analyst one day
Of school of Adler, Jung, or Freud
Should take this agèd bear away,
Then, oh my God, the dreadful void!
Its draughty darkness could but be
Eternity, Eternity.

John Betjeman was here

 

The poet Sir John Betjeman lived in The Old Rectory (1945 - 1951), a lovely 18th century country house in the small village Farnborough (with only 70 inhabitants today), "which was chosen by experts at Country Life magazine for its "quite exceptional" architecture, beautifully-kept gardens and spectacular views over the Berkshire Downs. The Old Rectory's 4 acre garden is divided into rooms and there are herbaceous borders, woodland and a pool. The garden is open to the public under the National Garden scheme."

 

I was really impressed with these wonderful garden rooms and the hospitality of the lady who welcomed us with some refresahments (the best fruit cake I ever enjoyed). I especially loved walking the path through the highly fragrant wild garlic wood with view down on a valley and a pond - and I loved the white doves sitting on  the roof, symbols of peace and hope (see also the horse shoes).  Yes, this place might be a kind of paradise on earth as I said to the owner lady, and she noded her head.

 

But when the couple, John Betjeman and his wife, arrived there, this country house, owned by the church until 1945, "had no electricity or running water and the poet described it as "dirty; but classy looking inside". He later boasted that the top floor of the house was the highest inhabited place in Berkshire.

Betjeman, who later became Poet Laureate, also believed he and his wife were single-handedly keeping the village together. He wrote to fellow writer Evelyn Waugh in 1947: "In villages people still follow a lead and we are the only people here who will give a lead. I know that to desert this wounded and neglected church would be to betray Our Lord."

 

One of John Betjeman's best poems:

 

Archibald

 

The bear who sits above my bed
A doleful bear he is to see;
From out his drooping pear-shaped head
His woollen eyes look into me.
He has no mouth, but seems to say:
‘They’ll burn you on the Judgement Day.’

 

Those woollen eyes, the things they’ve seen;
Those flannel ears, the things they’ve heard—
Among horse-chestnut fans of green
The fluting on an April bird,
And quarrelling downstairs until
Doors slammed at Thirty One West Hill.

 

The dreaded evening keyhole scratch
Announcing some return below,
The nursery landing’s lifted latch,
The punishment to undergo:
Still I could smooth those half-moon ears
And wet that forehead with my tears.

 

Whatever rush to catch a train,
Whatever joy there was to share
Of sounding sea-board, rainbowed rain,
Or seaweed-scented Cornish air,
Sharing the laughs, you still were there,
You ugly, unrepentant bear.

 

When nine, I hid you in a loft
And dared not let you share my bed;
My father would have thought me soft,
Or so, at least, my mother said.
She only then our secret knew,
And thus my guilty passion grew.

 

The bear who sits above my bed
More agèd now is he to see:
His woollen eyes have thinner thread,
But still he seems to say to me,
In double-doom notes, like a knell:
‘You’re half a century nearer Hell.’

 

Self-pity shrouds me in a mist,
And drowns me in my self-esteem.
The freckled faces I have kissed
Float by me in a guilty dream.
The only constant, sitting there,
Patient and hairless, is a bear.

 

And if an analyst one day
Of school of Adler, Jung, or Freud
Should take this agèd bear away,
Then, oh my God, the dreadful void!
Its draughty darkness could but be
Eternity, Eternity.

comments (11)

  • Ray
  • Thailand
  • 12 Jun 2019, 02:09
This is a wonderful post, Philine.
Oh what a gorgeous place!
And a really great story in that poem.
  • Chris
  • England
  • 12 Jun 2019, 06:52
I have always wanted to visit this place but never quite managed to get to visit

Betjeman was an interesting character, an extroverted and talented man wracked by guilt and fear. I loved his stance on architecture - his passion, the Victorians - and his abiding love of railways..
  • Chad
  • Somewhere in deep space
  • 12 Jun 2019, 06:57
It looks lovely Philine, and I’m pleased that you were so well received. I seem to have lost 80% of my sense of smell and can, sadly, no longer smell th wild garlic as we rive down our lane. Even on this holiday, Norma once asked me if I could smell the orange blossom, which she said was strong. I could hardly smell it at all.
Merci , c'est une découverte très interessante ..la poesie est elle aussi très belle !
  • Astrid
  • Netherlands
  • 12 Jun 2019, 07:50
I really like the middle picture, walking in between the green.
I would like to visit here. The poem is a fine one indeed
  • Alan
  • United Kingdom
  • 12 Jun 2019, 08:07
Well done for Sir John Betjeman; we have a lot to thank him for (St Pancras International station, for example). I'm really pleased that you had such warm welcome - just as it should be. My mouth is watering at the thought fo the fruit cake. Such a beautiful house. Berkshire's Farnborough sounds very different to that in NE Hampshire; around 65K people in 2011.
Looks like a fine place to visit.
The middle photo is so pleasing. I am sure we all want to be that lady in red.
  • Salima I.E.M. Senders
  • Netherlands
  • 12 Jun 2019, 21:14
What a lovely poem about that bear! And the garden looks like a place you would like to stay longer to comfort your mind...

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