Monday, January 1, 2018

Summoned by Bells

 Well Jo and David rang the bells at the church last night, and the fireworks went off next door and the New Year arrived.  Guess what it brought to mind John Betjeman, that old soul of poetry so redolent of the England that once existed like a magic fairy land - or did it ;).  That time between the two great wars when the summers were hot and the villages still to see electricity and running water from the tap.   Many years ago a friend gave me 'Summoned by Bells' as a Xmas present and I fell in love with Betjeman that slightly sardonic look at the people around him.  He lived in Calne at one stage with his daughter and her husband, Lycett-Green, (O England of the double-barrelled name and large old houses).  So this morning a poem and a video to delight your palate, rather late for Christmas though......

Diary of a Church Mouse by John Betjeman
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 baize.
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 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 our organ play,
And under cover of its notes
Ate 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.


  1. I adore it. A new one to me. His "Miss Joan Hunter Dunn" always reminds me of hot afternoons in airless classrooms studying for my O level English!

  2. This passed us here in America, but it is truly lovely.

  3. One of the members of our monthly poetry meeting is a Betjamen fan so we always get at least a taste. They are all delightful and as you say they are a taste of a certain kind of England at a certain time.

  4. My favourite CD is his poetry given music and sung by various artists. He was clever with words that's for sure. I love Myfanwy sung by David Essex.

  5. Glad you all liked it, Betjeman normally gets hauled out at Xmas expecially for his train journeys and Cornwall of course.