23 January 2021

A Welshman speaks about Betjeman

This is from the Interview with Archbishop emeritus Rowan Williams, in the new magazine MONK which I mentioned on Sunday January 17.

" ... I have a very soft spot for John Betjeman. I don't think he's one of the great 20-th century English poets, but he is a very considerable poet, and there is one of his poems in a teashop in Slough or somewhere like that. It's a very unlikely place, and the loving couple who are having tea are rather shady characters, but Betjeman says they're just touched with glory at this moment simply because they love each other ... very incarnational ... embrace of the ordinary ..."

Bathonians might not be impressed that Williams mistakes Bath (where the poem is in fact situated) for Somewhere Like Slough. Oh dear! Should interviews be reproduced without any editing at all? Indeed, in the paragraph above, and in the paragraph I reproduced earlier, it has seemed to me necessary slightly to arrange the syntax. Readers with an academic interest in the sometimes loose vernacular sentence structures even of a donnish retired Archbishop will find the interview, as printed in MONK, valuable material! But here is Betjeman's poem.

"Let us not speak, for the love we bear one another --

       Let us hold hands and look."

She, such a very ordinary little woman;

       He, such a thumping crook;

But both, for a moment, a little lower than the angels

       In the teashop's ingle-nook." 


Jhayes said...

According to a review of Wilson's biography (I haven't read the book) the couple are Betjeman and a woman he was involved with at the time. She is said to have written him a letter after seeing the poem: "You may be a thumping crook, but I'm not an ordinary little woman."

The next-to-last line scans better without the "a" before "little lower" -- as Betjeman wrote it.

Atticus said...

Come friendly buns and fall on Bath...

Oliver Nicholson said...

Surely all tea-shops are in Bath.

william arthurs said...

Was that letter genuine or a prank by Betjeman's previous biographer Bevis Hillier?

Stephen Barber said...

A sentiment very much in ther
vein of Charles Williams.