Poems by John Betjeman


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Poems by John Betjeman

John Betjeman writes interesting and contrasting poems, most of which
are very personal and a recollection of his past. He is a vivid poet
and never fails to set his scenes well. He always includes as much
detail as possible and his poems are oozing with creative writing.

'Indoor games Near Newbury' is about a boy, maybe himself, going to a
party and meeting a young beautiful girl. Betjeman conveys a rich
surrounding and on entering the house, it has many wealthy attributes,
'Winding ways of tarmac, gabled lodges and tile-hung churches'. Also,
there are motorcars, 'Hupmobile, Delage', but on top of this, posh
places for them as well, 'private gravel, warm garage'. The atmosphere
is cheerful and a time for 'Christmas cake' and the children are
playing 'hide and seek'. When he meets Wendy, it's love at first sight
and when Betjeman says 'you led me off', it gives you a feeling as
though Wendy is an angel lifting him off his feet. Another example is
when he describes him sleeping as Wendy 'holds him as he drifts to
dreamland' like a Christmas angel guiding him through troubled times.
Once he meets Wendy, everything seems to turn into fantasy, 'Fairies,
pinewood elf and larch tree gnome', which shows his childlike mind.
However, the whole poem changes its feel after you read the last
phrase, 'slumber-wear'. This gives the poem a very strange quality,
knowing that the boy is still very young and already up to no good.
The uncle also adds to this effect by asking them to 'fox-trot' giving
the reader the illusion that maybe the children are older. This poem
is very ambiguous because on the surface it seems very innocent but
underneath the surface, there is a strange double meaning to it.

The poem 'Devonshire Street' tells a very different story of an old
couple visiting a doctor and having the realisation that death is
close by. It is a very rich place with a 'heavy mahogany door.' When
Betjeman says 'no hope' at the beginning of the 2nd paragraph, it

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really shows the way the story is about to unfold. Everything after
these two words are spoken seems to make the situation worse and
worse. After the doctor 'confirms the message', the man looks out of
the window and sees 'a brick built house, lofty and calm.' The
contrast between the strong, stable houses and the weak and helpless
people that live inside them gives the feeling that life is so fragile
and should be cherished. When the man shouts out 'oh merciless,
hurrying Londoners!' it shows how insignificant one man's life is. How
everyone dies yet no one cares until it happens to you. Once you die
everything still goes on, it seems like a very cold thought. Still,
the man's wife is very 'loving and silly' and maybe actually the man
is much better off, his wife has to watch him die and live the rest of
her life as a widow mourning over her dead husband. Near the end of
the poem he says, 'it's cheaper to take the tube', which shows how
ordinary these people are and even they have great dramas in their
lives.

The poems 'Indoor Games Near Newbury' and 'Devonshire Street' have a
lot in common as well as many differences. The mood of 'Indoor Games
near Newbury' is happy 'Christmas cake' while 'Devonshire Street' is
melancholy, 'sympathetic'. One talks about life, 'holding hands,' the
other about death, 'X-ray photographs'. Though within the story of the
poems, they both have dilemmas, 'Indoor Games near Newbury' is the
problem of love; 'love so pure it had to end' and 'Devonshire Street'
is facing an illness that is terminal, 'confirm the message.' Both of
the poems start positive and end negative. 'Devonshire Street', there
is still hope at the start when Betjeman describes 'the sun still
shines' but none by the end, 'no hope.' They are both set in rich
places, 'silver birches, mahogany,' but for the old couple, it is a
one off and they are spending lots of money, proof of this is near the
end where the couple say 'cheaper to take the tube' whereas with the
boy, it's just another day out for him, 'leaded lights of home.' As
you near the end of the poems, you can't help but feel poignant,
towards the boy for losing his first love, 'Wendy's missing,' and the
couple that are going to be soon separated. The poems are highly
emotional and a specific part of life. Also they are both written
through the eyes of the beholder, which shows a very personal side to
the poems.

The Language and Vocabulary couldn't be more different between the two
poems. 'Indoor Games near Newbury' uses very soft and childlike terms
such as 'fairies, dreamland, safe, kissing, furry,' this contrasts
greatly to 'Devonshire Street' which has solid and hard words like
'mahogany, wrought-iron, brick, Edwardian.' Betjeman portrays his
ideas of love as 'love so pure it had to end', which makes me feel
sad, as he has obviously been given the wrong impression about love.
To emphasize something, Betjeman does one of two things; he either
uses repetition 'Wendy speeded… Wendy is the… Wendy bending…' 'No
hope… No hope' or allows the person to express their feelings through
speech, "Wendy's Missing!" "Painful deathbed coming to me?"

The Rhyme scheme is important in a poem as it sets the tone and
foundation for the poem itself. 'Indoor Games Near Newbury' has a very
complex but consistent rhyme scheme that reflects the boy. Because as
a young child, your thoughts are still developing and you're still
charming and happy like the poem's rhyme scheme. Also it is upbeat at
times and slower at others, maybe this is like a child talking or the
way they behave, sometimes nice and fluent other times unpleasant and
slow. I like the way the rhyme scheme is difficult to follow because
it makes you think more and is a lot like the story itself,
complicated and confusing. 'Devonshire street' has a simple A, B, A,
B, C, D, C… but this is very appropriate and effective as the people
in the poem are very ordinary and simple just like the rhyme scheme.
All of this shows how clever and will thought out Betjeman's poems
are.

John Betjeman is a very complicated character himself and this
reflects in his poems. He is a troubled man with many strong but
deluded views. Both my chosen poems talk about people with many
troubles, which might show that he uses his own life experiences to
guide his poems. His poems might also be a way of expressing himself.
Betjeman never fails to capture the reader's attention and all of his
poems seem to have a small personal place in everyone's heart. I think
that if there were one sentence to describe Betjeman, it would be "All
good has a bad, everything is counter balanced."


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