ELIZABETH Jennings, a gentle poet of insight, experiences the generation gap on a bus journey. Her poem is included in The Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century English Verse, chosen by Philip Larkin (Oxford University Press, Eighteenth Impression, 1997).


They slip on to the bus, hair piled up high.

New styles each month, it seems to me. I look,

Not wanting to be seen, casting an eye

Above the unread pages of a book.

They are fifteen or so. When I was thus,

I huddled in school coats, my satchel hung

Lop-sided on my shoulder. Without fuss

These enter adolescence; being young

Seems good to them, a state we cannot reach,

No talk of ‘awkward ages’ now. I see

How childish gazes staring out of each

Unfinished face prove me incredibly

Old-fashioned. Yet at least I have the chance

To size up several stages – young yet old,

Doing the twist, mocking an ‘old-time’ dance:

So many ways to be unsure or bold.