A Good Read – John Betjeman’s Collected Poems

thJohn Betjeman’s Collected Poems

I have fallen in love with John Betjeman. It is my usual crush, an unobtainable man (in this case long dead!) with whom I feel a kinship.

In his collected poems, first published in 1958, Betjeman is nostalgic for a vanishing Britain and so am I. I am told that nostalgia is wrong, that we must all embrace sustainable progress into a modern Britain I want no part of.

Instead I am drawn to Betjeman’s world of tennis played on the lawns of country houses and hills lined with elm trees. A less peopled country of winding roads with fewer cars and more detail.

I seek Betjeman’s world on long cycles through wintry lanes, in quiet woods and parish churches. I close my eyes to much of modern Britain and instead seek a country that offers food for the soul, that enriches not erodes.

But in Betjeman I do not find a poet of the past, despite being dead for over twenty years, many of his collected poems come across as surprisingly relevant. He depicts a countryside trashed by pylons and ugly developments and ugly values. A world of nature and depth consumed by plastic and triviality. Betjeman’s poems seem more than relevant in an era where all the little weedy paradises where children once played and learned to love nature are consumed by a tide of cheaply thrown up housing estates which will lock children into their box rooms to stare at computer screens and learn to shop.

Betjeman’s poems have an air of sadness, of knowing the fight against the destruction of all you love in your country is fruitless, it will be destroyed by politicians and planners and developers. As our wild places are gobbled up by housing at an alarming rate then Betjeman is a reminder of what beauty we threw away.

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