The Cottage Hospital

Betjeman, John

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

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


On a summer afternoon, the poet lies in a garden under a mulberry tree. The air is "swimming with insects" and children are playing in the street. He notices a housefly being caught in a spider’s web. The spider poisons and kills the fly, then wraps it in "lithe elastic," but everything else in the garden remains the same. Life goes on as usual. The poet then turns his attention to the future. One day in some cottage hospital he, too, will approach the end of his life. Will he groan in his bed and gasp for breath, while no one notices? [36 lines]


This poem is in essence a single leap of the imagination. The first 24 lines accurately and minutely describe the scene in the garden. After a stanza break, the final 12 lines are made up of a series of questions about the poet’s own death. Where will I be when the time comes? Will I be in pain? Will I gasp for breath?

This poem is infused with melancholy and a profound loneliness. 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. Is my life and death as meaningless as that of a common housefly? Will anyone pay attention?

Primary Source

The Collected Poems


John Murray

Place Published