Friday, 14 November 2014

John Betjeman, Poet of the Suburbs?

"Betjeman has a mind of extraordinary originality." Sir Maurice Bowra.

"In other words he is not a nature poet, like Wordsworth, but a landscape poet like Crabbe and, like Crabbe, he is a painter of the particular, the recognisable landscape; his trees are not merely real trees with their roots in the earth, they are conifers with their roots in the red sand of Camberley, feathery ash in leathery Lambourne, or forsythia in the Banbury road." John Sparrow.

Upper Lambourne

Up the ash-tree climbs the ivy,
Up the ivy climbs the sun,
With a twenty-thousand pattering
Has a valley breeze begun,
Feathery ash, neglected elder, 
Shift the Shade and make it run----

Shift the shade toward the nettles,
And the nettles set it free
To streak the stained Carrara headstone
Where, in nineteen-twenty-three,
He who trained a hundred winners
paid the Final Entrance Fee.

Leathery limbs of upper Lambourne,
Leathery skin from sun and wind,
Leathery breeches, spreading stables,
Shining saddles left behind----
To the down the string of horses
Moving out of sight and mind.

Feathery ash in leathery Lambourne
Waves above the sarsen stone,
And Edwardian plantations
So coniferously moan
As to make the swelling downland,
Far-surrounding, seem their own.

I adore the whole notion of  John Betjeman. His earnestness and delight in the everyday. Championing the small churches and the railways, whilst journeying through a warm and comfortable bygone era.


  1. How wonderful to see and hear the dear man again. I always hear his voice when reading any of his poems.
    One of my favourtie books is 'Trains and Buttered Toast'.

    1. It has only just struck me that Adam Nicolson sounds similar to Betjeman. Such a lovely voice, posh but with a hint of mischief.

      Jean x

  2. A champion of the ordinary. I am old enough to remember the old railway system and I find his voice very reassuring and of a time when life was simpler.

  3. I have a CD of several of his poems set to music. It was due to be a musical but never made it that far. Each poem is sung by a different person/group. Great fun.
    David Essex Myfanwy is my favourite

  4. I love the racing images in this poem and the cantering pace of the lines (lea-ther-y, lea-ther-y, lea-ther-y). Betjeman has captured the setting, the sunrise and the racing theme perfectly.
    Changing the subject a bit, I know you champion recycling/upcycling so here's a link I wanted to share. Its about how to make mittens from old, felted wool sweaters. I thought it would make a good charity project since the colder weather is setting in.