John Betjeman

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Sir John Betjeman

Sir John Betjeman CBE (28 August 190619 May 1984) was an English poet, architectural conservationist and broadcaster. He was the British Poet Laureate from 1972 until his death in 1984.

Quotes[edit]

  • The test of an abstract picture, for me, is not my first reaction to it, but how long I can stand it hanging on the wall of a room where I am living.
    • John Piper (Penguin Books, 1944), p. 12.
  • History must not be written with bias, and both sides must be given, even if there is only one side.
    • First and Last Loves (1952).
  • Hymns are the poetry of the people.
    • Radio Talk: BBC Radio (4 July 1975)
  • There are two thing you need for a jolly good hymn. The first is a set of words that expresses the mood or sentiment of the worshipper. The second—and perhaps even more important—is a good tune … with a simple popular melody.[citation needed]
  • One mark of good verse is surprise.
    • Radio Talk. BBC Radio 4 (2 August 1978)
  • Topography is one of my chief themes in my poetry...about the country, the suburbs and the seaside...then there come's love...and increasingly, the fear of death.
    • Radio Talk. BBC Third Programme (1949)
  • I ought to warn you that my verse is of no interest to people who can think.
    • Radio Talk. BBC Third Programme (1949)
  • Ghastly Good Taste, or a Depressing Story of the Rise and Fall of English Architecture.
    • Title and sub-title of book (1933)
  • Yes, I haven't had enough sex.
    • In an interview for the television documentary Time With Betjeman (February 1983), having been asked whether he had any regrets.
    • As quoted in: Ned Sherrin, Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations, Oxford University Press, 2008, p. 286

Poetry[edit]

  • Sing on, with hymns uproarious,
    Ye humble and aloof,
    Look up! and oh how glorious
    He has restored the roof!
    • "Hymn", from Mount Zion (1931).
  • Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough!
    It isn't fit for humans now,
    There isn't grass to graze a cow.
    Swarm over, Death!
    • "Slough" line 1, from Continual Dew (1937).
  • He sipped at a weak hock and seltzer
    As he gazed at the London skies
    Through the Nottingham lace of the curtains
    Or was it his bees-winged eyes?
    • "The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel" line 1, from Continual Dew.
  • Gracious Lord, oh bomb the Germans.
    Spare their women for Thy Sake,
    And if that is not too easy,
    We will pardon Thy Mistake.
    But, gracious Lord, whate'er shall be,
    Don't let anyone bomb me.
    • "In Westminster Abbey" line 1, from Old Lights for New Chancels (1940).
  • He would have liked to say goodbye,
    Shake hands with many friends.
    In Highgate now his finger-bones
    Stick through his finger-ends.

    You, God, who treat him thus and thus,
    Say, "Save his soul and pray."
    You ask me to believe You and
    I only see decay.

    • "On a Portrait of a Deaf Man" line 25, from Old Lights for New Chancels.
  • Miss J. Hunter Dunn, Miss J. Hunter Dunn,
    Furnish'd and burnish'd by Aldershot sun,
    What strenuous singles we played after tea,
    We in the tournament — you against me!
    • "A Subaltern's Love-song" line 1, from New Bats in Old Belfries (1945).
  • We sat in the car park till twenty to one
    And now I'm engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.
    • "A Subaltern's Love-song" line 43.
  • Stony seaboard, far and foreign,
    Stony hills poured over space,
    Stony outcrop of the Burren,
    Stones in every fertile place.
    • "In Ireland with Emily" from New Bats in Old Belfries.
  • Oh shall I see the Thames again?
    The prow-promoted gems again,
    As beefy ATS
    Without their hats
    Come shooting through the bridge?
    And "cheerioh" and "cheeri-bye"
    Across the waste of waters die,
    And low the mists of evening lie
    And lightly skims the midge.
    • "Henley-on-Thames", from New Bats in Old Belfries.
  • No hope. And the X-ray photographs under his arm
    Confirm the message. His wife stands timidly by.
    The opposite brick-built house looks lofty and calm,
    Its chimneys steady against the mackerel sky.
    • "Devonshire Street W.1" line 1, from A Few Late Chrysanthemums (1954).
  • And behind their frail partitions
    Business women lie and soak,
    Seeing through the draughty skylight
    Flying clouds and railway smoke.

    Rest you there, poor unbelov'd ones,
    Lap your loneliness in heat,
    All too soon the tiny breakfast,
    Trolley-bus and windy street!

    • "Business Girls" line 13, from A Few Late Chrysanthemums.
  • But I'm dying now and done for,
    What on earth was all the fun for?
    I am ill and old and terrified and tight.
    • "Sun and Fun — Song of a Night-club Proprietress", from A Few Late Chrysanthemums.
  • In the licorice fields at Pontefract
    My love and I did meet
    And many a burdened licorice bush
    Was blooming round our feet;
    Red hair she had and golden skin,
    Her sulky lips were shaped for sin,
    Her sturdy legs were flannel-slack'd
    The strongest legs in Pontefract.
    • "The Licorice Fields at Pontefract" from A Few Late Chrysanthemums.
  • I heard the church bells hollowing out the sky,
    Deep beyond deep, like never-ending stars.
    • Summoned By Bells (1960).
  • It's strange that those we miss the most
    Are those we take for granted.
    • "The Hon. Sec." line 39, from High and Low (1966).
  • I am a young executive. No cuffs than mine are cleaner;
    I have a Slimline brief-case and I use the firm's Cortina.
    • "Executive" line 1, from A Nip in the Air (1974).

External links[edit]

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