Image by John Hedgecoe

Youth and Age on Beaulieu River

John Betjeman


Youth and Age on Beaulieu River

John Betjeman


Poem introduction

I once had an operation - nothing bad but of course one thought one was going to die - and I went to recover on the shores of the New Forest at a place called Beaulieu where they have sharpies - little boats. And while I was there a most beautiful girl came by in a sharpie and asked me the time - I didn't know it, I just made it up - I couldn't do anything, I wanted to oblige her in every possible way. And when I got back to my hosts I asked who she was and they said she was called Clemency Buckland and she was the daughter of a general. Is she here tonight?

Youth and Age on Beaulieu River

Youth and Age on Beaulieu Water

Early sun on Beaulieu water
Lights the undersides of oaks,
Clumps of leaves it floods and blanches,
All transparent glow the branches
Which the double sunlight soaks;
To her craft on Beaulieu water
Clemency the General's daughter
Pulls across with even strokes.

Schoolboy-sure she is this morning;
Soon her sharpie's rigg'd and free.
Cool beneath a garden awning
Mrs. Fairclough, sipping tea
And raising large long-distance glasses
As the little sharpie passes,
Sighs our sailor girl to see.

Tulip figure, so appealing,
Oval face, so serious-eyed,
Tree-roots pass'd and muddy beaches.
On to huge and lake-like reaches,
Soft and sun-warm, see her glide,
Slacks the slim young limbs revealing,
Sun-brown arm the tiller feeling,
With the wind and with the tide.

Evening light will bring the water,
Day-long sun will burst the bud,
Clemency, the General's daughter,
Will return upon the flood.
But the older woman only
Knows the ebb-tide leaves her lonely
With the shining fields of mud.


from Collected Poems (John Murray, 1978), © The Betjeman Literary Estate, by permission of the publisher and Gillon Aitken Associates Ltd for the Betjeman Estate. Recording used by permission of The British Library Sound Archive and The Poetry Society.

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