John Betjeman: Collected Poems
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The poetic work of John Betjeman is known both for its range and its mastery of form. Released for the first time in paperback, this selection of his poetry has sold more than two million copies and was awarded the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize.
allow such forwardness?” The Browns, who thus are commented upon, Have certainly done very well indeed. The elder children bringing money in, Father still working; with allowances For this and that and little income-tax, They probably earn seven times as much As poor old Grosvenor-Smith. But who will grudge Them this, their wild, spontaneous holiday? The morning paddle, then the mystery tour By motor-coach inland this afternoon. For that old mother what a happy time! At last past
he can consider safe. The word ‘safe’, or ‘safety’, appears like a nervous tic in his poems — ‘safe in bed’, ‘safety with old friends’, ‘safe in G. F. Bodley’s greens and browns, / Safe in the surge of undogmatic hymns’: there are at least ten uses of the word in the one hundred-odd pages of Summoned by Bells, and it connects with every one of his interests and allegiances: his passion for the seaside (especially Cornwall), which distils childhood memories of feeling coddled and secure; his
other merry newcomers to see. Walking from school is a consummate art: Which routes to follow to avoid the gangs, Which paths to find that lead, circuitous, To leafy squirrel haunts and plopping ponds, For dreams of Archibald and Tiger Tim; Which hiding-place is safe, and when it is; What time to leave to dodge the enemy. I only once was trapped. I knew the trap— I heard it in their tones: “Walk back with us.” I knew they weren’t my friends; but that soft voice Wheedled me from my
Watched from its peak. In all the roar and swirl The still and small things gained significance. Somehow the freckled cowrie would survive And prawns hang waiting in their watery woods; Deep in the noise there was a core of peace; Deep in my heart a warm security. Nose! Smell again the early morning smells: Congealing bacon and my father’s pipe; The after-breakfast freshness out of doors Where sun had dried the heavy dew and freed Acres of thyme to scent the links and lawns; The rotten
stood for. Oh the dreadful hour When once upon a time he frowned on me! Just what had happened I cannot recall— Maybe some bullying in the dormitory; But well I recollect his warning words: “I’ll fight you, Betjeman, you swine, for that, Behind the bike shed before morning school.” So all the previous night I spewed with fear. I could not box: I greatly dreaded pain. A recollection of the winding punch Jack Drayton once delivered, blows and boots Upon the bum at Highgate Junior School,