- Paperback: 528 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (November 28, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374126534
- ISBN-13: 978-0374126537
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,136,432 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Collected Poems 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
A neat comic sense, an unfeigned comfort with 19th-century manners and forms, and a good eye for English milieus made Betjeman (1906–1984) both a great craftsman of light verse and the most popular British poet of his day. His first U.K. Collected Poems, in 1958, sold millions of copies. Newly available in the United States alongside A.N. Wilson's new biography, this big book can show Americans what so many Britons cherish: ballads and love poems devoted to strapping, tennis-playing young women; a fondness for Cornwall's seaside; devotion to traditional England, along with an amused contempt for the middle-class ways that might destroy it (the ways in which he, and his readers, actually live). Betjeman and his sympathetic characters, from King Edward VIII to a "husband down at the depot with car in car-park," hike along "stony lanes and back at six to tea," celebrate Christmas, admire South London's churches and denounce the "Inexpensive Progress" which plans to "Leave no village standing./ Which could provide a landing/ For aeroplanes to roar." Though Philip Larkin called Betjeman (poet laureate from 1972 on) his favorite contemporary poet, "Betj" provides nothing like Larkin's memorable depths; his enviable skill, however, might entice Anglophiles, or devotees of light verse, to queue up. (Dec.)
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“John Betjeman has succeeded better than most of his contemporaries in narrowing the gulf between poetry and the public. In his own province of feeling he has established a personal regency over all contemporary taste.” ―The Times (London)
“He is in the best sense a committed writer, whose poems spring from what he really feels about real life, and as a result he brings back to poetry a sense of dramatic urgency it had all but lost.” ―Philip Larkin
Top customer reviews
"Then roller into roller curled
And thundered down the rocky bay,
And we were in a water-world
Of rain and blizzard, sea and spraym
And one against the other hurled
We struggled round to Greenaway.
Blessed be St. Enodoc, blessed be the wave...."
A volume to be treasured and well-thumbed.
I especially love his poem, 'Slough' (rhymes with cow) -- imagine that he wrote this poem as war with Germany loomed on the horizon and England was soon to be bombed unmercifully. Opening stanza:
Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough
It isn't fit for humans now,
There isn't grass to graze a cow
-- Swarm over, Death!
Betjeman is so easy going that the radical or even impudent aspect of some of his ideas passes under your guard and strikes like a knife when it catches up to you. He's undoubtedly one of the best poets of the 20th Century. The intensely local aspect of a lot of his poetry is opaque to an international audience, but there is still plenty that is deep and universal here.
I recently discovered him; / Enthralled I read him through.
A master of the English tongue / Vocabulary rich
He juggled words and memories / To magically bewitch.
The countryside, the lanes and paths, / The churches' pealing bells,
I read his words and see and hear / Meandering brooks and dells.
He takes me back to England's past, / Paints scenes I never knew,
The everyday, the ordinary: / Fresh beer stains on the pew.
He brings to life the humdrum round / In humor oh so dry;
Emotions at the end of life, / So beautiful, I cry.
I want to write like Betjeman / To write of things I know,
To warm the heart and raise a smile, / - But now I have to go.
There is a down-to-earth quality to Betjeman's poems and the themes he covers. He is realistic about love, faith, life and human beings. Some of his most amusing verses poke fun at characters that one gets the impression might easily be reflections of himself (see Seaside Golf, for example); his ability to laugh at himself certainly adds an air of ease and approachability to his work. Nevertheless, he is also able to deal with thorny subjects without trivializing the difficult questions they provoke, even if he often does so with a rather wicked sense of humour. For me, the most fascinating of his poems deal with God, faith and religion. Betjeman was an Anglican, and he is not shy about his faith, nor about acknowledging its shortcomings. In Westminster Abbey takes the form of a lady's wartime prayer, and is a brilliant and witty expose of religious hypocrisy; On a Portrait of a Deaf Man is a heartfelt psalmic reflection on the problem of God and evil; Senex is a hilarious confession of struggle with sexual temptation.
Elsewhere, Betjeman treats sexuality with a candour that shocks, and firmly dispells any lingering suspicions that he is merely a fat, jovial and reserved old Englishman (see Late-Flowering Lust). At other times, he offers playful reflections on love, lust, romance and courtship, as in A Subaltern's Love Song or The Olympic Girl.
His attempts at blank verse are delightful, and eminently readable, or preferably listenable (English readers will recall the documentaries he made for British television some twenty or thirty years ago, for which he recited many of his poems, including the charming Beside the Seaside, included here). He is at home musing on the things that he loves most: people and places. Many (probably most) of his poems received their inspiration, and take their titles, from places mainly in and around the English coast. He writes of them with an obvious affection.
It seems that Betjeman has not received the attention he deserves on this side of the Atlantic (US/Canada). His books are few and far between in second-hand bookshops, and my review of his collected poems seems to be the first to appear on Amazon. This is regrettable. I am sure that those who take the time to explore Betjeman's world will find they are richly rewarded; his enthusiasm for his subjects, and his gentle and avuncular manner, surely elicit an appeal that goes beyond national boundaries. This comprehensive collection comes highly recommended.