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John Betjeman

September 8, 2009 at 3:38 pm UTC

I just finished re-re-re-re-watching the British version of The Office, the original version created by and starring Ricky Gervais. In my very humble opinion it is the greatest television show ever made. I even own the scripts.

In one of the episodes, Ricky’s character David Brent reads bits of a poem by Sir John Betjeman called Slough (Slough is the city in England where The Office takes place), and for some reason this time around I found the passage deeply moving. So I ordered a collection of his poems from Amazon, and it arrived in the mail this morning.

Gorgeous, heartfelt, clever, beautifully crafted poems, every one of them. If you are at all interested in poetry, or English culture (or are a full-blown anglophile like me), I can’t recommend his work more highly. Here is Slough, reprinted in it’s entirety. Look especially at the formal structure, elegant and effortless:


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.


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