John Betjeman is an English poet so identified with his times and interests. Born in 1906, his family ran a firm in the East End of London making furniture and household items distinctive to Victorians. Betjeman remained fascinated by Victoriana, its architecture, English nature and society, and this is evident in his poetry. He was a founding member of the Victorian Society, and became Poet Laureate in 1972. In his introduction to his collection Slick But Not Streamlined, published in 1947, he wrote of himself ‘so at home with the provincial gaslit towns, the seaside lodgings, the bicycle, the harmonium.’
I read ‘May-Day Song for North Oxford’ on a freezing cold February morning, in a public library in West London. It was the sort of day on which you doubt you will ever be warm again. In a few words, I forgot my surroundings and was with Betjeman on a spring day.
Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library.
‘Belbroughton Road is bonny, and pinkly bursts the spray
Of prunus and forsythia across the public way,
For a full spring-tide of blossom seethed and departed hence,
Leaving land-locked pools of jonquils by sunny garden fence.
And a constant sound of flushing runneth from windows where
The toothbrush too is airing in this new North Oxford air
From Summerfields to Lynam’s, the thirsty tarmac dries,
And a Cherwell mist dissolveth on elm-discovering skies.’
‘Collected Poems’ by John Betjeman [UK: John Murray]
Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:-
‘The Unthinkable’ by Simon Armitage
‘Happiness’ by Stephen Dunn
‘The Death of the Hat’ by Billy Collins
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A #poem to read in the bath: ‘May-Day Song for North Oxford’ by John Betjeman https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3fX via @SandraDanby