Sunday, 28 December 2008

A Subaltern's Love Song

tennis girl

John Betjeman was an English poet who lived in the first half of the 20th century. He was known for some good poetry, as well as some silly poetry. This would have to be one of his best 'silly verses', a poem about a delightful young woman (Joan Hunter Dunn was her real name) who was a member of the elite English class. This poem was written some time after the second world war. When I watch my daughter playing tennis, I think about this poem, and the same symbolism tennis still retains in the modern world; it's something all good girls should play.

The bold words represent the tennis references in the poem.

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.

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
How mad I am, sad I am, glad that you won,
The warm-handled racket is back in its press,
But my shock-headed victor, she loves me no less.

Her father's euonymus shines as we walk,
And swing past the summer-house, buried in talk,
And cool the verandah that welcomes us in
To the six-o'clock news and a lime-juice and gin.

The scent of the conifers, sound of the bath,
The view from my bedroom of moss-dappled path,
As I struggle with double-end evening tie,
For we dance at the Golf Club, my victor and I.

On the floor of her bedroom lie blazer and shorts,
And the cream-coloured walls are be-trophied with sports,
And westering, questioning settles the sun,
On your low-leaded window, Miss 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.

By roads "not adopted", by woodlanded ways,
She drove to the club in the late summer haze,
Into nine-o'clock Camberley, heavy with bells
And mushroomy, pine-woody, evergreen smells.

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.


  1. It's a fabulous poem, isn't it? Betjeman's ability to make lines ripple is incredible to me. What sounds so simple is not easy to imitate at all, and he is such a keen observer or people!
    Perhaps you also know his wonderful poem about the horse trials:
    It's awfully bad luck on Diana,
    The horses have swallowed their bits,
    She fished down their throats with a spanner,
    And frightened them out of their wits....

    Most Beautiful Princess

  2. At least reading about Miss Dunn
    must make tennis quite a bit of fun!