Saturday, September 3, 2011

Verse of the Day - John Betjeman

John Betjeman was the poet laureate when I was growing up. He seemed like friendly old type; the sort you could while away a couple of hours in the pub with. His successor Ted Hughes was surely a better poet but less easy company.

I drove through Slough a couple of times when I was in England. It isn't as bad as in the 1930s when Betjeman wrote this poem. But nor is it the sort of place you linger in unless you are in the cast of The Office. I remember a strip of Polish shops, a nondescript industrial park and little more. It was was on the road to Windsor.

This poem seems to be a commentary on industrialisation as well as Slough and alienation from the natural world. And it's still relevant today because we all know people who daren't look up and see the stars but belch instead.

Slough by John Betjeman

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.


  1. Hey David, I really love this one. We're both looking out the same window.

  2. hey Suzzy - I thought you'd like the cow line, best David