John Betjeman


As I lay in the bath the air was filling with bells;
Over the steam of the window, out in the sun,
From the village below came hoarsely the patriot yells
And I knew that the next World War had at last begun.
As I lay in the bath I saw things clear in my head:
Ten to one they’d not bother to bomb us here,
Ten to one that they’d make for the barracks instead—
As I lay in the bath, I certainly saw things clear.
As I started to dry, came a humming of expectation;
Was it the enemy planes or was it young Jack
And the rest of the gang who have passed in their aviation
Setting across to Berlin to make an attack?
As the water gurgle away I put on a shirt,
I put on my trousers, and parted what’s left of my hair,
And the humming above increased to a roaring spurt
And a shuddering thud drove all the bells from the air,
And a shuddering thud drove ev’rything else to silence.
There wasn’t a sound, there wasn’t a soul in the street,
There wasn’t a wall to the house, there wasn’t a staircase;
There was only the bathroom linoleum under my feet.
I called, as I always do, I called to Penelope,
I called to the strong with the petulant call of the weak;
There lay the head and the brown eyes dizzily open,
And the mouth apart but the tongue unable to speak;
There lay the nut-shaped head that I love for ever,
The thin little neck, the turned-up nose and the charms
Of pouting lips and lashes and circling eyebrows;
But where was the body? and where were the legs and arms?
And somewhere about I must seek in the broken building
Somewhere about they’ll probably find my son.
Oh bountiful Gods of the air! Oh Science and Progress!
You great big wonderful world! Oh what have you done?