Two Police Inspectors Sitting on a Willow Tree

The wide sweep of the river across the alluvial land was far from road or path and devoid of dwellings, so there were no passers-by to stop and stare, to pause for a little and then go on to spread the news.

They were in a world by themselves down there by the river. A timeless world, and comfortless.

Grant and Rodgers had exhausted professional post-mortems long ago, and had got no further. Now they were just two men alone in a meadow on a chilly spring day. They sat together on the stump of a fallen willow, Grant watching the slow sweep of the questing drag, Rodgers looking out across the wide flats of the valley floor.

‘This is all flooded in winter,’ he said. ‘Looks quite lovely, too, if you could forget the damage it’s doing.’

“‘Swift beauty come to pass
Has drowned the blades that strove”,’

Grant said.

‘What is that?’

‘What an army friend of mine wrote about floods.

“Where once did wake and move
The slight and ardent grass.
Swift beauty come to pass
Has drowned the blades that strove.'”

‘Nice,’ Rodgers said.

‘Sadly old-fashioned,’ Grant said. ‘It sounds like poetry. A fatal defect, I understand.’

‘Is it long?’

‘Just two verses and the moral.’

‘What is the moral?’

“‘O Final Beauty, found
In many a drownéd place,
We love not less thy face
For lesser beauties drowned.'”

Rodgers thought it over. ‘That’s good, that is,’ he said. ‘Your army friend knew what he was talking about. I was never one for reading poems in books–I mean collections, but magazines sometimes put verses in to fill up the space when a story doesn’t come to the bottom of the page. You know?’

‘I know.’

‘I read a lot of these, and every now and then one of them rings a bell. I remember one of them to this day. It wasn’t poetry properly speaking, I mean it didn’t rhyme, but it got me where I lived. It said:

“My lot is cast in inland places,
Far from sounding beach
And crying gull,
And I
Who knew the sea’s voice from my babyhood
Must listen to a river purling
Through green fields,
And small birds gossiping
Among the leaves.”

‘Now, you see, I was bred by the sea, over at Mere Harbour, and I’ve never quite got used to being away from it. You feel hedged in, suffocated. But I never found the words for it till I read that. I know exactly how that bloke felt. “Small birds gossiping!”‘

The scorn and exasperation in his voice amused Grant, but something amused him much more and he began to laugh.

‘What’s funny?’ Rodgers asked, a shade defensively.

‘I was just thinking how shocked the writers of slick detective stories would be if they could witness two police inspectors sitting on a willow tree swapping poems.’

~ Josephine Tey, To Love and Be Wise


A brief look at three of Josephine Tey’s other mysteries is found at Ink-Stained Wretches.

An essay about the [remarkable] Josephine Tey at “Josephine Tey – A Very Private Person.”


* A Project Gutenberg Canada Ebook *

Title: To Love and Be Wise 
Author: Josephine Tey [Elizabeth MacKintosh] (1896-1952)
Date of first publication: 1950
Place and date of edition used as base for this ebook: London: Peter Davies, February, 1953
Date first posted: 18 May 2008
Date last updated: 18 May 2008
Project Gutenberg Canada ebook #120

This ebook was produced by: David T. Jones, Donald Perry, Mark Akrigg & the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at


Cover of To Love and Be Wise from