Saturday, 15 September 2012
Poetry Saturday . . . Diary of a Church Mouse
Here, among long-discarded cassocks,
Damp stools, and half-split open hassocks,
Here where the Vicar never looks
I nibble through old service books.
Lean and alone I spend my days
Behind this Church of England baise.
I share my dark forgotten room
With two oil lamps and half a broom.
The cleaner never bothers me,
So here I eat my frugal tea.
My bread is sawdust mixed with straw;
My jam is polish for the floor,
Christmas and Easter may be feasts
For congregations and for priests,
And so may Whitsun. All the same,
They do not fill my meagre frame.
For me, the only feast at all
Is Autumn's Harvest Festival.
When I can satisfy my want
With ears of corn around the font.
I climb the Eagle's brazen head
To burrow through a loaf of bread.
I scramble up the pulpit stair
And gnaw the marrows hanging there.
It is enjoyable to taste
These items ere they go to waste,
But how annoying when one finds
That other mice with pagan minds
Come into my church my food to share
Who have no proper business there.
Two field mice who have no desire
To be baptized, invade the choir.
A large and most unfriendly rat
Comes in to see what we are at.
He says he thinks there is no God
And yet he comes . . . it's rather odd.
This year he stole a sheaf of wheat
(It screened our special preacher's seat).
And prosperous mice from fields away
Come in to hear the organ play,
And under cover of it's notes
Eat through the altar's sheaf of oats.
A Low Church mouse, who thinks that I
Am too papistical, and High.
Yet somehow doesn't think it wrong
To munch through Harvest Evensong.
While I, who starve the whole year through,
Must share my food with rodents who
Except at this time of the year
Not once inside the church appear.
Within the human world I know
Such goings-on could not be so,
For human beings only do
What their religion tells them to.
They read the Bible every day
And always, night and morning, pray.
And just like me, the good church mouse,
Worship each week in God's own house.
But all the same it's strange to me
How very full the church can be
With people I don't see at all
Except at Harvest Festival.
John Betjeman was born on August 28th, 1906, near Highgate, London. His father was Ernest Betjemann, a cabinet maker, a trade which had been in the family for several generations. The family name was Betjemann, with two 'n's, but John dropped the second 'n' during the First World War, to make the name less German. John was an only child, and by all accounts had a lonely childhood, taking comfort from his teddy bear, Archibald, later to feature in his children's story, Archie and the Strict Baptists. Having attended his first schools in Highgate, John became a boarder at Dragon School, Oxford, aged eleven. Three years later, he went to Marlborough College, again as a boarder.
Throughout John's childhood, his family went for holidays to Trebetherick in Cornwall, where his father owned a number of properties. These seemed to have been the happiest times for JB, and are remembered in many of his poems. In 1925, JB went to Magdalen College, Oxford. However, the many distractions of college life meant that he did not complete his degree, having failed a Divinity exam. He became a teacher at Thorpe House School, Gerrard's Cross, before working as a private secretary, and then at another prep school. In 1930, JB became an assistant editor of The Architectural Review.
In 1931, his first book of poems, Mount Zion, was published by an old Oxford friend, Edward James. Soon afterwards, JB met and married Penelope Chetwode, the daughter of Field Marshal Lord Chetwode, a former Commander-in-Chief in India. It was clear that he did not approve of JB. His second book was Ghastly Good Taste, a commentary on architecture, published in 1934. JB and Penelope moved to Uffington in Berkshire, and John was given the job of film critic for the Evening Standard, but he continued to write poetry, and his next book, Continual Dew, appeared in 1937. He also began work on the series of Shell Guides to the counties of England. His prolific writing output continued throughout the 30s and 40s, with books and magazine articles appearing regularly.
In 1941, JB went to Dublin, as the Press Officer to the British Representative. Many years later, it was revealed that the IRA thought he was a spy, and considered assassinating him. However, on reading his poetry, they decided otherwise. His daughter Candida was born in 1942. Returning to England in 1943, JB worked in the Ministry of Information, and continued to write for a number of publications. The family eventually settled in Wantage in 1951.
A Few Late Chrysanthemums was published in 1952, and by the mid 1950's, JB was a well-known figure, making both radio and television appearances, commenting on architecture and campaigning for many threatened buildings. Collected Poems and his verse autobiography, Summoned by Bells, were both best sellers. His broadcasting career continued during the 1960's and 70's, with documentaries such as Metroland and A Passion for Churches. In 1969, he was knighted, and when Cecil Day Lewis died in 1972, JB was made Poet Laureate. His last book of new poems, A Nip in The Air, was published in 1974. After that, he began to suffer from Parkinson's Disease, and a series of strokes reduced his mobility. John Betjeman died on May 19th 1984, at his home in Trebetherick. He is buried in the nearby church of St.Enodoc.
I found his poem, Diary of a Church Mouse, in a volume of poetry I have entitled Poetry Please, popular poems from the BBC Radio 4 programme.
The bath to all intents and purposes is finished! I had my first shower in it this morning and it felt lovely! I will be so happy to get life back to normal. They are just waiting for the Cistern to arrive and then they will replace the overly-tall toilet with one made for shorter legs like mine, probably on Tuesday. Now I can paint some artwork for the wall and decorate it up a bit. I am really thankful to finally have a shower after all this time. Todd will probably miss having a bath tub, as he's always been a bath type of person, but I think he will gradually get used to the shower.
Off to a place called Dyserth today with my friends Sheilagh and Trish for a crafting day. I'll show you what I do tomorrow! I think you'll like it.
A positive thought for today:
All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.
Baking in The English Kitchen today . . . a delicious Hazelnut and Chocolate Crumb Cake!
Happy Saturday everyone. I hope you all enjoy your day!