Saturday

Apr. 5, 2008

Diary of a Church Mouse

by John Betjeman

Here among long-discarded cassocks,
Damp stools, and half-split open hassocks,
Here where the Vicar never looks
I nibble through old service books.
Lean and alone I spend my days
Behind this Church of England baize.
I share my dark forgotten room
With two oil-lamps and half a broom.
The cleaner never bothers me,
So here I eat my frugal tea.
My bread is sawdust mixed with straw;
My jam is polish for the floor.
   Christmas and Easter may be feasts
For congregations and for priests,
And so may Whitsun. All the same,
They do not fill my meagre frame. For me the only feast at all
Is Autumn's Harvest Festival,
When I can satisfy my want
With ears of corn around the font.
I climb the eagle's brazen head
To burrow through a loaf of bread.
I scramble up the pulpit stair
And gnaw the marrows hanging there.
   It is enjoyable to taste
These items ere they go to waste,
But how annoying when one finds
That other mice with pagan minds
Come into church my food to share
Who have no proper business there.
Two field mice who have no desire
To be baptized, invade the choir.
A large and most unfriendly rat
Comes in to see what we are at.
He says he thinks there is no God
And yet he comes... it's rather odd.
This year he stole a sheaf of wheat
(It screened our special preacher's seat),
And prosperous mice from fields away
Come in to hear the organ play,
And under cover of its notes
Ate through the altar's sheaf of oats.
A Low Church mouse, who thinks that I
Am too papistical, and High,
Yet somehow doesn't think it wrong
To munch through Harvest Evensong,
While I, who starve the whole year through,
Must share my food with rodents who
Except at this time of the year
Not once inside the church appear.
   Within the human world I know
Such goings-on could not be so,
For human beings only do
What their religion tells them to.
They read the Bible every day
And always, night and morning, pray,
And just like me, the good church mouse,
Worship each week in God's own house,
   But all the same it's strange to me
How very full the church can be
With people I don't' see at all
Except at Harvest Festival.

"Diary of a Church Mouse" by John Betjeman from Collected Poems. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006. Reprinted with permission.(buy now)

It's the birthday of philosopher Thomas Hobbes, (books by this author) born in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, England (1588). His most famous work is Leviathan (1651), in which he says that the life of man in a state of nature, without a civil government, is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

It's the birthday of poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, (books by this author) born in London (1837). He wrote finely crafted poetry about subjects that many Victorian critics found offensive. His collection Poems and Ballads, published in 1866, contained poems about sadism and vampires.

It's the birthday of the African-American educator Booker T. Washington, (books by this author) born a slave in Franklin County, Virginia (1856). In June of 1881, Washington was asked to become the principal of a new training school for blacks at Tuskegee, Alabama. The Tuskegee Institute began in a single building with 30 students, but through his efforts grew into a modern university. Among Washington's dozen books is his autobiography, Up from Slavery (1901), which was translated into many languages.

It's the birthday of the American crime and suspense writer Robert Bloch, (books by this author) born in Chicago (1917). He is known for his frightening characterizations of psychopaths. His best known is Norman Bates from Psycho, which later was adapted into the famous film by Alfred Hitchcock.

It's the birthday of poet Richard Eberhart, (books by this author) born in Austin, Minnesota (1904). He grew up on a plot of land in rural Minnesota called Burr Oaks, and that was the title of one of his books of poetry, published in 1947. His Selected Poems, 1930-1965 won the Pulitzer Prize in 1966. He said, "If a poet writes to save his soul, he may save the souls of others."

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