In the latest issue:

In Quarantine

Erin Maglaque

Après Brexit

Ferdinand Mount

Short Cuts: Springtime for Donald

David Bromwich

Meetings with their Gods

Claire Hall

‘Generation Left’

William Davies

At the North Miami Museum: Alice Paalen Rahon

Mary Ann Caws

Buchan’s Banter

Christopher Tayler

‘American Dirt’

Christian Lorentzen

Fiction and the Age of Lies

Colin Burrow

In Lahore

Tariq Ali

GOD HATES YOUR FEELINGS

James Lasdun

Rereading Bowen

Tessa Hadley

At the Corner House

Rosemary Hill

William Gibson

Thomas Jones

Poem: ‘Murph & Me’

August Kleinzahler

The Stud File

Kevin Brazil

John Boorman’s Quiet Ending

David Thomson

In Shanghai: The West Bund Museum

John-Paul Stonard

Diary: The Deborah Orr I Knew

Jenny Turner

The Word from Wuhan

Wang Xiuying

‘John Betjeman: A Life in Pictures’Gavin Ewart
Close
Close
Vol. 6 No. 22 · 6 December 1984
Poem

‘John Betjeman: A Life in Pictures’

Gavin Ewart

297 words

When I see yet another work of hagiography
concerning Sir John Betjeman,
it makes me want to vomit!
Show me, I want to say, please, the ‘geography’
of the house!1
But Betjeman wasn’t nasty, in fact very far from it.

It’s probably the Murrays who are such penny-turners
(Byron’s one was a Philistine).
John’s an important asset,
one of the few real genuine poetic earners,2
man not mouse,
in many a crowd-pulling, wide, populist facet.

It all seems so easy, the noble Lordlings
at Marlborough or Magdalen – 3
they made his way much smoother.
No truck with the Callaghans or Maudlings4
but real peers!
All other poets so much less friended, uncouther.

He had great talent – but Lord Alfred Douglas
and Evelyn Waugh (less awful) –
really, who needs them?5
Lord Alfred needed selling to the smugglers6
for a few beers,
with his ghastly poems (and who, now, reads them?).

I’d rather they honoured Grigson or Bunting7
or anyone less televised.
Someone anti-life, grim, retiring!
Less of the stately homes, horses, hunting,
landowners,
the young drunk rich ones so self-admiring.

But John was ‘trade’ – don’t let’s forget it –
he had to push to get there.
No ancestors, no crest-embossed look.8
The world came, large, wild – he met it,
like all loners,
with that genuinely troubled ‘lost’ look.

Further Suggestions. A Betjeman Calendar, with quotations from the verse. An annual Betjeman Day on his Birthday, with a service in Westminster Abbey. The ‘Oxford’ edition of his Complete Works, with Notes, Introductory Essays and Commentaries. A coffee-table Book of Popular Betjeman Dogs and Horses, edited by Lady Penelope. An unofficial ‘pirated’ life of Miss Joan Hunter Dunn. Organised Platypus Races in Australia. Most of these being explored at this very moment by John Murray?

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences