Sir John Betjeman CBE (28 August 1906 – 19 May 1984) was an English poet, writer, and broadcaster. He was Poet Laureate from 1972 until his death. He was a founding member of The Victorian Society and a passionate defender of Victorian architecture, helping to save St Pancras railway station from demolition. He began his career as a journalist and ended it as one of the most popular British Poets Laureate and a much-loved figure on British television.
- 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.
- It was through looking at churches that I came to believe in the reason churches were built.
- The Best of Betjeman, John Guest, Penguin Modern Classics, 1985. Written in 1948. (Blisland)
- 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)
- Hymn tunes are the nearest we've got to English folk music.
- There are two things 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.
- 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 comes 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)
- Saint Pancras was a fourteen-year old Christian boy who was martyred in Rome in AD 304 by the Emperor Diocletian. In England he is better known as a railway station.
- London's Historic Railway Stations (1973)
- 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
- 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.
- Safe were those evenings of the pre-war world
When firelight shone on green linoleum,
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).
Metro-Land (film, 1973)Edit
[his first line]
- Betjeman: Child of the First War,
Forgotten by the Second.
We called you Metro-Land. We laid our schemes
Lured by the lush brochure,
down byways beckoned,
To build at last the cottage of our dreams,
A City clerk turned countryman again,
And linked to the Metropolis by train.
- Betjeman [sitting at table] : Is this Buckingham Palace?
Are we at the Ritz? No. This is the Chiltern Court Restaurant, built above Baker Street station, the gateway between Metro-land out there and London down there. The creation of the Metropolitan Railway.
- Betjeman: And here, screened by shrubs,
Walled in from public view,
Lived the kept women.
What puritan arms have stretched within these rooms
To touch what tender breasts,
As the cab-horse stamped in the road outside.
Sweet secret suburb on the City's rim,
St John's Wood.
- Betjeman [standing in centre of the pitch at Wembley] : This was where London's failed Eiffel Tower stood. Watkins' Folly as it was called. Here on this Middlesex turf, and since then the site has become quite well-known.
- Betjeman [standing in front of a house in Harrow] : A verge in front of your house and grass and a tree for the dog. Variety created in the façades of each of the houses - in the colouring of the trees. In fact, the country had come to the suburbs. Roses are blooming in Metro-Land just as they do in the brochures.
- Betjeman: Steam took us onwards,
through the ripening fields,
Ripe for development.
Where the landscape yields
Clay for warm brick,
timber for post and rail
Through Amersham to
Aylesbury and the Vale.
In those wet fields the railway didn't pay.
The Metro stops at Amersham to-day.
- Betjeman [standing and leaning on a bridge] : Where are the advertisements? Where the shopping arcade, the coal merchant and the parked cars? This is a part of the Metropolitan Railway that's been entirely forgotten. Beyond Aylesbury it lies in flat fields with huge elms and distant blue hills.