Posted by Vale
I was listening to a programme about the recordings John Betjeman made with Jim Parker, setting his verse to some glorious music.
Until they played this, though, I’d forgotten how dark Betjeman could be.
On A Portrait Of A Deaf Man
The kind old face, the egg-shaped head,
The tie, discretely loud,
The loosely fitting shooting clothes,
A closely fitting shroud.
He liked old city dining rooms,
Potatoes in their skin,
But now his mouth is wide to let
The London clay come in.
He took me on long silent walks
In country lanes when young.
He knew the names of ev’ry bird
But not the song it sung.
And when he could not hear me speak
He smiled and looked so wise
That now I do not like to think
Of maggots in his eyes.
He liked the rain-washed Cornish air
And smell of ploughed-up soil,
He liked a landscape big and bare
And painted it in oil.
But least of all he liked that place
Which hangs on Highgate Hill
Of soaked Carrara-covered earth
For Londoners to fill.
He would have liked to say goodbye,
Shake hands with many friends,
In Highgate now his finger-bones
Stick through his finger-ends.
You, God, who treat him thus and thus,
Say “Save his soul and pray.”
You ask me to believe You and
I only see decay.
This, I realise is number three in my very occasional series of tributes to fathers – the ‘Old Deaf Man – is certainly Betjemn senior. See numbers 1 (Horace Silver) and 2 (Astor Piazolla) here and here.