Monday, December 8, 2014

John Betjeman*

Sir John Betjeman (1906—1984) was Britain's Poet Laureate from 1972 until his death. He was also known as a broadcaster, and for his other writings, such as guidebooks to the English counties. His first poetry collection Mount Zion was privately published with the assistance of a friend in 1931. His Collected Poems (John Murray, 1958) has sold more than two million copies to date. His wide popularity. may be attributed to his nostalgia for the recent past—amid the ever-changing post-war years—and his accessible, conservative style. In 2005 the anthology Faith and Doubt of John Betjeman gathered more than seventy of his religious poems into one volume.

Betjeman appreciated Victorian architecture and was active in seeking to preserve several of London's historic railway stations. A statue of Sir John Betjeman stands in the international terminus for Eurostar at St. Pancras Station, which was reopened in 2007.


The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says 'Merry Christmas to you all'.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children's hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say 'Come!'
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare —
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about John Betjeman: first post,
third post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.