Days of sum­mer

This week: A Subal­tern’s Love Song by John Bet­je­man

Wexford People - - NEWS - WITHJOHNJKELLY

Isn’t a bit of fine weather fab­u­lous? It’s up­lift­ing and in­fec­tious. There’s a spring in ev­ery step. The post­man is whistling. The fears of a no-show sum­mer start to re­cede, all things are pos­si­ble. Beaches are worth the traf­fic, blue smoke bil­lows from back gar­dens and you couldn’t track down a burger-bun in a su­per­mar­ket for love nor money. The bread-wars that fol­lowed the snow in Fe­bru­ary and March, are a dis­tant me­mory. The days are at full length long and the lit­tle squint­ing faces on the school chil­dren can sniff the holiers on the hori­zon.

The low sparkling Slaney, the early first-cut silage trac­tors jam­ming the roads and an ex­tra sweet­ness in a straw­berry, con­firm all we hoped for. Early sum­mer is be­hav­ing it­self, and per­haps we’re in for a fine one.

In fact, right about now, sand­wiched be­tween the French Open ten­nis of June, and Wim­ble­don fi­nals of July, one might spot ‘ten­nis club sweater man’, him that fre­quents such fine es­tab­lish­ments as the An­tique Tav­ern in En­nis­cor­thy or French’s Bar in Gorey, a cre­ation of a long for­got­ten fash­ion­ista, as timely a vis­i­tor as the cuckoo or corn­crake, but who’s sim­ple plumage re­quires just a pas­tel coloured jumper, worn loosely over the shoul­ders. Ring any bells? Out for a gin on a fine sum­mers evening! Re­minds me a bit of one of my all time favourite po­ems.

A Subal­tern’s Love Song cap­tures beau­ti­fully a time and place in mid­dle-up­per class jolly hockey sticks home coun­ties mid last cen­tury Eng­land. It has the bounce and faith of new sum­mer ro­mance and the ado­ra­tion and whirl of fall­ing in love. It does not dare to sug­gest how won­der­ful things were ‘back then’, it’s no lament or men­tal cast backward (and Lord knows Bet­je­man could flit­ter old Eng­land with his pen when he wished) but it’s time-set­ting and im­agery and sense of con­tent­ment just ooze from the page, from ev­ery sin­gle line. How I’d love to pub­lish the com­plete poem here, now, but my word count would go through the roof, but the task of re­duc­ing it is close to im­pos­si­ble. That said, here’s a sam­ple:

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 .........

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.

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, I can hear from the car park the dance has be­gun, Oh! Sur­rey 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.

Reader, please find the poem in it’s en­tirety, get it on Google and read it aloud, or bet­ter still have it read to you. It’s won­der­ful, joy­ous and lovely. And, maybe cheekier than we might imag­ine. I’m not sure but there is very pos­si­bly an un­der­cur­rent of lost, in­no­cence, shall we del­i­cately say! There are cer­tainly clues aplenty.

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