The bear that sits above my bed
A doleful bear he is to see;
From out his drooping pear-shaped head
His woollen eyes look into me.
He has no mouth, but seems to say:
'They'll burn you on the Judgement Day.'
Those woollen eyes, the things they've seen
Those flannel ears, the things they've heard -
Among horse-chestnut fans of green,
The fluting of an April bird,
And quarrelling downstairs until
Doors slammed at Thirty One West Hill.
The dreaded evening keyhole scratch
Announcing some return below
The nursery landing's lifted latch,
The punishment to undergo
Still I could smooth those half-moon ears
And wet that forehead with my tears.
Whatever rush to catch a train,
Whatever joy there was to share
Of sounding sea-board, rainbowed rain,
Or seaweed-scented Cornish air,
Sharing the laughs, you still were there,
You ugly, unrepentant bear.
When nine, I hid you in a loft
And dared not let you share my bed;
More aged now he is to see,
His woollen eyes have thinner thread,
But still he seems to say to me,
In double-doom notes, like a knell:
'You're half a century nearer Hell.'
Self-pity shrouds me in a mist,
And drowns me in my self-esteem.
The freckled faces I have kissed
Float by me in a guilty dream.
The only constant, sitting there,
Patient and hairless, is a bear.
And if an analyst one day
Of school of Adler, Jung or Freud
Should take this aged bear away,
Then, oh my God, the dreadful void!
its draughty darkness could but be
Together with an elephant known as Jumbo, he was a lifelong companion.
Betjeman brought his bear with him when he went up to university at Oxford in the 1920s, and as a result Archie became the model for Aloysius, Sebastian Flyte's bear in Evelyn Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited.
In the 1940s, Betjeman also wrote an illustrated a story for his children, entitled 'Archie and the Strict Baptists', in which the bear's sojourns at the family's successive homes in Uffington and Farnborough are fictionalised. Archie is here described as a member of the Strict Baptist denomination, riding a hedgehog to chapel, and enjoying amateur archaeology, digging up molehills, "which, he considered, were the graves of baby Druids".