Death in Leamington

Betjeman, John

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Oct-05-2003


A nurse enters an elderly woman's bedroom. "Wake up! It's nearly five," she cries. Does she mean five AM, or is it afternoon teatime? The nurse lets the window blinds unroll and puts some coal on the fire in the fireplace.

In fact, the patient is dead. She had died the previous evening, "by the light of the ev'ning star." Setting aside her "chintzy cheeriness," the nurse begins to pay attention. She looks "at the gray, decaying face," realizing what has happened. Her response is simply to straighten up a bit and leave the room. [28 lines]


This poem is infused with loneliness and despair. Death is inevitable, of course, but we yearn for our lives to make a difference in the world, and for our deaths to have meaning. The only thing we know about this woman's life narrative is that she died alone, and, at least within the frame of these 8 quatrains, there is no one to mourn her. Life goes on. Though her death was certainly expected, she had lived in a world of "chintzy cheeriness." No one was willing to acknowledge that the plaster of the house was falling, or the inevitability that the old woman's heart would stop.

Primary Source

The Collected Poems


John Murray

Place Published