mjj (flemmings) wrote,


So the King William's College annual 'who the hell knows *that*?' quiz is now up with its very few 'oh of course' questions- What word was uttered from atop the bust of Pallas? Who is remembered, with her brother, in Dorlcote churchyard? What, according to the hookah-smoking larva, can variably influence height?- and a plethora of 'I could tell you the work it's from but no more'- Which island or island group saw the surgeon accidentally marooned and obliged to survive on avian-polluted water and sulid blood? Aubrey/Maturin; Which pupil was, with one exception, the vilest manufacturer of “barbarous hexameters” that King had ever dealt with? Stalky and Co; Over what was the good fellow, Bob, to be offered a pay rise during the festive season? Christmas Carol; Which periodical likened the death of Tom Robinson to the senseless killing of songbirds by hunters and children? To Kill a Mockingbird; even, Which pupil when writing home, reported a 9-0 defeat by porridge court and requested a “bakterial gun”? Because I'm not sure if it's Molesworth or Molesworth 2.

But then there was this OMG I *know* that what *is* it? 'Who was seen as a ghost, dripping along in a bathing dress to the Congregational Hall?' Way back in the mists of time a poem showed up in, I'm prepared to swear, my grade 9 reader about someone swimming along, swimming along, swimming along to... Yawley? Rawley? My nun-trained poetry memory balked at proper names. The poem appeared without any explanation and struck me with the same sense of weirdness as The Dancing Cabman:

The Dancing Cabman
by John Bingham Morton

Alone on the lawn
The cabman dances;
In the dew of the dawn
He kicks and prances.
His bowler is set
On his bullet-head.
For his boots are wet
And his aunt is dead.
There on the lawn
As the light advances,
On the tide of the dawn,
The cabman dances.

Swift and strong
As a garden roller,
He dances along
In his little bowler,
Skimming the lawn
With royal grace,
The dew of the dawn
On his great red face.
To fairy flutes,
As the light advances,
In square, black boots
The cabman dances.

It took some googling, but I found the swimming poem, along with an explanation of the weirdness. "John Betjeman's song A Shropshire Lad is about the English Channel swimmer Matthew Webb... Captain Matthew Webb caught the public imagination when he first swam the English Channel in 1875. After performing no end of feats of endurance and prowess in the water, he finally drowned while attempting a conquest of the rapids below the Niagara Falls. This story of the Captain's ghost returning to his home town in industrial Shropshire was devised by Sir John Betjeman..."

The gas was on in the Institute,
The flare was up in the gym,
A man was running a mineral line,
A lass was singing a hymn,
When Captain Webb the Dawley man,
Captain Webb from Dawley,
Came swimming along the old canal
That carried the bricks to Lawley,
Swimming along, swimming along,
Swimming along from Severn,
And paying a call at Dawley Bank
While swimming along to Heaven.

The sun shone low on the railway line
And over the bricks and stacks,
And in at the upstairs windows
Of the Dawley houses’ backs,
When we saw the ghost of Captain Webb,
Webb in a water sheeting,
Come dripping along in a bathing dress
To the Saturday evening meeting.
Dripping along, dripping along,
To the Congregational Hall;
Dripping and still he rose over the sill
And faded away in a wall.

There wasn’t a man in Oakengates
That hadn’t got hold of the tale,
And over the valley in Ironbridge,
And round by Coalbrookdale,
How Captain Webb the Dawley man,
Captain Webb from Dawley,
Rose rigid and dead from the old canal
That carried the bricks to Lawley,
Rigid and dead, rigid and dead,
To the Saturday congregation,
And paying a call at Dawley Bank
On his way to his destination.

The only problem being that I can't find a date for this. The internet says it's a song that Betjeman recorded in 1972, a decade after I was in grade 9.
Tags: verse

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