Thursday, 17 April 2008

The Poet and His Muse

This morning's papers announced the death last week of Joan Jackson, age 92. Mrs Jackson, born Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, was the inspiration for John Betjeman's poem "A Sub Altern's Love Song". The two worked together at the Ministry of Information during World War II.

In the poem, written in 1940, a young army officer comes home on leave from his miltary service, plays tennis with Miss Dunn, and admires her sun-burnished form on court. Subsequently, he takes her to a dance, and the poem ends when he proposes to her and they become engaged.

Around the time he wrote this poem, Betjeman had told his friends that he had fallen in love with a red-headed woman. Was it she? Mrs Jackson said that Betjeman was a very nice gentleman; he helped her and her sons after she was widowed. But the poem was a fantasy, and whatever may have felt, he never made a pass at her.

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