cover image Collected Poems

Collected Poems

John Betjeman, . . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $17 (498pp) ISBN 978-0-374-12653-7

A neat comic sense, an unfeigned comfort with 19th-century manners and forms, and a good eye for English milieus made Betjeman (1906–1984) both a great craftsman of light verse and the most popular British poet of his day. His first U.K. Collected Poems , in 1958, sold millions of copies. Newly available in the United States alongside A.N. Wilson's new biography, this big book can show Americans what so many Britons cherish: ballads and love poems devoted to strapping, tennis-playing young women; a fondness for Cornwall's seaside; devotion to traditional England, along with an amused contempt for the middle-class ways that might destroy it (the ways in which he, and his readers, actually live). Betjeman and his sympathetic characters, from King Edward VIII to a "husband down at the depot with car in car-park," hike along "stony lanes and back at six to tea," celebrate Christmas, admire South London's churches and denounce the "Inexpensive Progress" which plans to "Leave no village standing./ Which could provide a landing/ For aeroplanes to roar." Though Philip Larkin called Betjeman (poet laureate from 1972 on) his favorite contemporary poet, "Betj" provides nothing like Larkin's memorable depths; his enviable skill, however, might entice Anglophiles, or devotees of light verse, to queue up. (Dec.)