I’ve never really been all that much of a poetry fan. It seemed superfluous when, in my teens, I had the latest Marc and the Mambas L.P. to listen to (“What you earn / Heaven knows / It goes straight up your nose…”). Prose was my thing, and I just didn’t see the necessity for it.
One poem, at least, did get through, though — and I was reminded of it today when, the novel taking a (very slight) detour, I had to grab a name for a very beautiful Welsh girl out of thin air. Myfanwy, I thought, and the John Betjeman poem came flooding back…
Kind o’er the kinderbank leans my Myfanwy,
White o’er the playpen the sheen of her dress,
Fresh from the bathroom and soft in the nursery
Soap scented fingers I long to caress.
Were you a prefect and head of your dormit’ry?
Were you a hockey girl, tennis or gym?
Who was your favourite? Who had a crush on you?
Which were the baths where they taught you to swim?
Smooth down the Avenue glitters the bicycle,
Black-stockinged legs under navy blue serge,
Home and Colonial, Star, International,
Balancing bicycle leant on the verge.
Trace me your wheel-tracks, you fortunate bicycle,
Out of the shopping and into the dark,
Back down the avenue, back to the pottingshed,
Back to the house on the fringe of the park.
Golden the light on the locks of Myfanwy,
Golden the light on the book on her knee,
Finger marked pages of Rackham’s Hans Anderson,
Time for the children to come down to tea.
Oh! Fullers angel-cake, Robertson’s marmalade,
Liberty lampshade, come shine on us all,
My! what a spread for the friends of Myfanwy,
Some in the alcove and some in the hall.
Then what sardines in half-lighted passages!
Locking of fingers in long hide-and-seek.
You will protect me, my silken Myfanwy,
Ring leader, tom-boy, and chum to the weak.