Wednesday, August 30, 2006
I used to have no strong feelings about John Betjeman. He is a perfectly decent minor poet of the sort that tends to be much liked by people who don't read much or any poetry. But, of course, he falls miles short of Larkin and cannot be mentioned in the same breath as Auden. Over the last century, there have been dozens and, if we include the Americans, probably hundreds of better poets writing in English. But now, thanks to these perpetual anniversary celebrations, I cannot stand Betjeman. Here, for example, is a piece by a highly intelligent man, Charles Moore, trying to convince me that he is a great poet by describing techniques and devices that Auden would have regarded as little more than the serious poet's equivalent of learning how to spell. Can Moore be serious? Can A.N.Wilson, his biographer and another highly intelligent man, be serious in claiming him as a great religious poet? None of this, of course, is about poetry at all but about politics and cultural prejudice. Betjeman is a fragant figure to a certain type of imagination. And, to everybody else, he provides the illusion that they are reading poetry. I suppose, they are, but it's somehow not enough when they could be leafing through Wallace Stevens or John Ashbery or, come to that, Edward Thomas. But I suppose they are not "accessible".
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 10:09 am