Tuesday, 2 September 2008

A Subaltern's Love Song by John Betjeman

Joan Hunter Dunn, back row far right.

Miss J.Hunter Dunn, Miss J.Hunter Dunn,
Furnish'd and burnish'd by Aldershot sun,
What strenuous singles we played after tea,
We in the tournament - you against me!

Love-thirty, love-forty, oh! weakness of joy,
The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy,
With carefullest carelessness, gaily you won,
I am weak from your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
How mad I am, sad I am, glad that you won,
The warm-handled racket is back in its press,
But my shock-headed victor, she loves me no less.

Her father's euonymus shines as we walk,
And swing past the summer-house, buried in talk,
And cool the verandah that welcomes us in
To the six-o'clock news and a lime-juice and gin.

The scent of the conifers, sound of the bath,
The view from my bedroom of moss-dappled path,
As I struggle with double-end evening tie,
For we dance at the Golf Club, my victor and I.

On the floor of her bedroom lie blazer and shorts,
And the cream-coloured walls are be-trophied with sports,
And westering, questioning settles the sun,
On your low-leaded window, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

The Hillman is waiting, the light's in the hall,
The pictures of Egypt are bright on the wall,
My sweet, I am standing beside the oak stair
And there on the landing's the light on your hair.

By roads "not adopted", by woodlanded ways,
She drove to the club in the late summer haze,
Into nine-o'clock Camberley, heavy with bells
And mushroomy, pine-woody, evergreen smells.

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
I can hear from the car park the dance has begun,
Oh! Surry twilight! importunate band!
Oh! strongly adorable tennis-girl's hand!

Around us are Rovers and Austins afar,
Above us the intimate roof of the car,
And here on my right is the girl of my choice,
With the tilt of her nose and the chime of her voice.

And the scent of her wrap, and the words never said,
And the ominous, ominous dancing ahead.
We sat in the car park till twenty to one
And now I'm engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

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  1. What a lovely poem ... a man's inner longings
    "And the scent of her wrap, and the words never said,"

    One would think, naturally, from the final line that the narrator had 'captured' his "tennis-girl's hand."

    But engaged has varied meanings such as 'given one's word, bound, pledged, steady. A friend committed for life?

    And "by roads not adopted" I am reminded of Frost's poem The Road Not Taken.

    I understand Ms. Hunter Dunn was a bit bemused and reticent regarding the poem, claiming a friendship only.


    And how fortuitous for you, Master Soubry, to have encountered a photograph of Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

    simply lovely .....

  2. Ah, the subtleties of language, and the atlantic divide.
    Engaged, in the language of the people, times, and setting of the poem has absolutely the meaning of being engaged (as in 'promised') to be married. In those times an engagement would have been proudly announced in the relevant column of the local, and possibly a national newspaper. An ngagement was a very big deal, a commitment, a promise. If either party then changed their mind, the other might then, (and often did) sue for damages for "breach of promise" in a court of law.
    'The Road not Taken' is an interesting link, and I do like Frost's poems.
    In this case, roads "not adopted" means roads across privately owned land, often grassy or stone surfaced, which were not on the county-council's index of streets, and therefore not part of the Queen's Highways. An unadopted road is also often known as a permissive byway, you are generally allowed to use it, but the owner can bar access to any person without needing to give any reason.
    They can be offered by the private owner to the local authority for 'adoption'. If 'adopted', the local council will maintain them, and they are then open to all to use, the prior owner no longer having the right to exclude users.

    Betjeman admired healthy sporting, lithe young women. Joan definitely ticked all his boxes. Both of them are now dead, so we'll never know whether poet and muse ever dallied. Both denied any major link.

  3. Master Soubry,

    I smile and chuckle at your response. How so like you to take the literal meaning of words used in poetry and make a case for your interpretation.

    But a poet? ahh ... we poets look for words, with hidden meanings and subtleties, nuance and shadows... words so obvious that they can be overlooked .... and thus, a reader, such as yourself, will pull out his / her "Guide to the Queen's English and Customs of the Times" and decipher a meaning that is ... well, more literal, shall we say?

    Good poetry, dare I even say Great poetry, transcends time and customs and space to speak to our inner humanity. The unchanging-ness of our inner human selves: desire, love, hate, need, hunger ..... to name but a few.

    Superficially, yes, a 'common man's poet' can describe a common man's life .... however, the same poet can also imbue his portrait with far more than just a simple rendering of his times. Think of Pieter Bruegel's paintings for example.

    Though I do find your information enlightening and informative, it still does not alter my own perception of a deeper bond and of a deeper promise ... even if it was to an unrequited love....

    or shared ??

    On this point we both agree:

    Both of them are now dead, so we'll never know whether poet and muse ever dallied.

    which makes Betjeman's words even that much more intriguing ....

  4. Something about all this reminds me of a Michener Book I read called "Journey"...it was only 200 pages, an outake from the larger work 'Alaska" and the only Michener I've ever read.
    It was really good, good enough that I re-read it several times and gave it away twice and I'm sure that you would like it Souby.
    There is an englishman and his Scotch "Gamekeeper" that are the two main characters, and its their relationship that this discussion haas brought to mind.
    On a scale of 1-10, I give it a 10.

  5. I've read a couple of Michener's books, but not Journey, one was set in the pacific, Hawaii, I think, another was a huge thick doorstep of a book set in Japan, but it's a long time ago.... Maybe I should read Alaska? In fact, if an out-take scores 10 Bulletholes.... I definitely should read it!

  6. You can read journey in a sitting. Its about the Klondike Gold Rush. I've been tempted to take on Alaska, but havemn't been ready to take on such a volume.


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