Monday, 25 May 2015

John Betjeman (1906-1984) - the people's Poet.

                                                                           Sir John Betjeman

For those unfamiliar with the work of the British poet and writer John Betjeman (1906-1984) you may find the following short poems revelatory and I hope enjoyable. Revelatory because in their own way, they reveal the diversity of interests and the sheer readability of his poetry, in which he incorporates events and circumstances of everyday life familiar to all people in contemporary Britain, expressed clearly in language to which all can relate. Integrity pervades his writing, with gentle, and sometimes not so gentle irony, a potent weapon and tool of his trade. 
Ack. The following poems are taken from 'The Collected Poems of John Betjeman' with permission from Messrs.Hodder and Stoughton.

This first poem reminds me of my childhood, longer ago than I care to admit, when I lived in the Surrey countryside with my mother and our dog Bobby, my father was in the army serving abroad. It was war-time and the black-out was strictly enforced, and I was rather afraid of the dark ...........

False Security
I remember the dread with which I at a quarter past four
Let go with a bang behind me our house front door,
And, clutching a present for my dear little hostess tight,
Sailed out for the children’s party into the night
Or rather the gathering night.   For still some boys
In the near municipal acres were making a noise
Shuffling in fallen leaves and shouting and whistling
And running past hedges of hawthorn, spikey and bristling.

And black in the oncoming darkness stood out the trees
And pink shone the ponds in the sunset ready to freeze
And all was still and ominous waiting for dark
And the keeper was ringing his closing bell in the park
And the arc lights started to fizzle and burst into mauve
As I climbed West Hill to the great big house in The Grove,
Where the children’s party was and the dear little hostess.

But halfway up stood the empty house where the ghost is,
I crossed to the other side and under the arc
Made a rush for the next kind lamp-post out of the dark.
And so to the next and the next till I reached the top
Where The Grove branched off to the left.  Then ready to drop
I ran to the ironwork gateway of number seven,
Secure at last on the lamplit fringe of Heaven.

Oh who can say how subtle and safe one feels
Shod in one’s children’s sandals from Daniel Neal’s,
Clad in one’s party clothes made of stuff from Heal’s?
And who can still one’s thrill at the candle shine
On cakes and ices and jelly and blackcurrant wine,
And the warm little feel of my hostess’s hand in mine?

Can I forget my delight at the conjuring show?
And wasn’t I proud that I was the last to go?
Too over-excited and pleased with myself to know
That the words I heard my hostess’s mother employ
To a guest departing, would ever diminish my joy,
I wonder where Julia found that strange, rather
                            common little boy?


It is usually unwise to label anyone as 'religious', but John Betjeman had a great interest in all things appertaining to religion, with a personal faith and preference for high-church Anglicanism, and a particular interest in and love for old church buildings, religious liturgy, and religious people.  In the poem 'Felixstowe, or the last of her Order' these interests are reflected in a nostalgic but pragmatic way.  

Felixstowe, or The Last of Her Order
With one consuming roar along the shingle
    The long wave claws and rakes the pebbles down
To where its backwash and the next wave mingle,
    A mounting arch of water weedy-brown.
Against the tide the off-shore breezes blow,
Oh wind and water, this is Felixstowe.

In winter when the sea winds chill and shriller
    Than those of summer, all their cold unload
Full on the gimcrack attic of the villa
    Where I am lodging off the Orwell Road,
I put my final shilling in the meter
And only make my loneliness completer. 

In eighteen ninety-four when we were founded,
    Counting our Reverend Mother we were six,
How full of hope we were and prayer-surrounded
    “The Little Sisters of the Hanging Pyx”.
We built our orphanage.  We ran our school.
Now only I am left to keep the rule.

Here in the gardens of the Spa Pavilion
    Warm in the whisper of a summer sea,
The cushioned scabious, a deep vermilion,
    With white pins stuck in it, looks up at me
A sun-lit kingdom touched by butterflies
And so my memory of winter dies.

Across the grass the poplar shades grow longer
    And louder clang the waves along the coast,
The band packs up.  The evening breeze is stronger
    And all the world goes home to tea and toast.
I hurry past a cake-shop’s tempting scones
Bound for the red brick twilight of St. John’s.

“Thou knowest my down sitting and mine uprising”
    Here where the white light burns with steady glow,
Safe from the vain world’s silly sympathizing.
    Safe with the love that I was born to know,
Safe from the surging of the lonely sea
My heart finds rest, my heart finds rest in Thee.


 John Betjeman had no time for 20th century town and country developers and planners. He despised 'modern' architecture and so-called 'new towns', seeing in them the demise of the Britain he loved and in which he had grown up. His strong feelings were expressed frequently in his poetry, and shows his anger towards those people he considered mainly responsible for the desecration of the countryside and the destruction of historic buildings and townships. The following poems 'Executive' and 'Harvest Hymn', sum this up rather well.

I am a young executive.  No cuffs than mine are cleaner;
I have a Slimline brief-case and I use the firm’s Cortina.
In every roadside hostelry from here to Burgess Hill
The maitres d’hotel all know me well and let me sign the bill.

You ask me what it is I do.  Well actually, you know,
I’m partly a liaison man and partly P.R.O.
Essentially I integrate the current export drive
And basically I’m viable from ten o’clock till five.

For vital off-the-record work – that’s talking transport wise-
I’ve a scarlet Aston Martin- and does she go?  She flies!
Pedestrians and dogs and cats – we mark them down for slaughter.
I also own a speed-boat which has never touched the water.

She’s built of fibre-glass, of course.  I call her ‘Mandy Jane’
After a bird I used to know- No soda please, just plain-
And how did I acquire her?  Well to tell you about that
And to put you in the picture I must wear my other hat.

I do some mild developing.  The sort of place I need
Is a quiet country market town that’s rather run to seed.
A luncheon and a drink or two, a little 'savoir faire' -
I fix the Planning Officer, the Town Clerk and the Mayor.

And if some preservationist attempts to interfere
A ‘dangerous structure’ notice from the Borough Engineer
Will settle any buildings that are standing in our way-
The modern style, sir, with respect, has really come to stay.

 Harvest Hymn
We spray the fields and scatter 
The poison on the ground
So that no wicked wild flowers
Upon our farm be found.
We like whatever helps us
To line our purse with pence;
The twenty-four-hour broiler-house
And neat electric fence.

All concrete sheds around us
And Jaguars in the yard,
The telly-lounge and deep-freeze
Are ours from working hard.

We fire the fields for harvest,
The hedges swell the flame,
The oaktrees and the cottages
From which our fathers came.
We give no compensation,
The earth is ours today,
And if we lose on arable,
Then bungalows will pay.

All concrete sheds ........etc.                            


Betjeman was no lover of government bureaucracy, but he liked people, particularly 'ordinary' people, such as the oft-quoted 'man on the Clapham omnibus'. The following poems  'Mortality' and 'The Hon. Sec.' I think reflect this.

The first class brains of a senior civil servant
Shiver and shatter and fall
As the steering column of his comfortable Humber
Batters in the bony wall.
All those delicate little re-adjustments
"On the one hand if we proceed
With the ad hoc policy hitherto adapted
To individual need ......
On the other hand, too rigid an arrangement
Might, of itself, perforce ....
I would like to submit for the Minister's concurrence
The following alternative course,
Subject to revision and reconsideration
In the light our experience gains ...."
And this had to happen at the corner where the by-pass
Comes into Egham out of Staines.
That very near miss for an All Souls' Fellowship
The recent compensation of a 'K' -
The first-class brains of a senior civil servant
Are sweetbread on the road today.

The Hon. Sec.
The flag that hung half-mast today
Seemed animate with being
As if it knew for whom it flew
And will no more be seeing.

He loved each corner of the links -
The stream at the eleventh,
The grey-green bents, the pale sea-pinks,
The prospect from the seventh;

To the ninth tee the uphill climb,
A grass and sandy stairway,
And at the top the scent of thyme
And long extent of fairway.

He knew how on a summer day
The sea's deep blue grew deeper,
How evening shadows over Bray
Made that round hill look steeper.

He knew the ocean mists that rose
and seemed for ever staying,
When moaned the foghorn from Trevose
And nobody was playing;

The flip of cards on winter eves,
The whisky and the scoring,
As trees outside were stripped of leaves
And heavy seas were roaring.

He died when early April light
Showed red his garden sally,
And under pale green spears glowed white
His lilies of the valley;

That garden where he used to stand
And where the robin waited
To fly and perch upon his hand
And feed till it was sated.

The Times would never have the space
For Ned's discreet achievements;
The public prints are not the place
For intimate bereavements.

A gentle guest, a willing host,
Affection deeply planted -
It's strange that those we miss the most
Are those we take for granted.

 John Betjeman was a man who loved life, yet his poetry revealed an ever present recognition of the inevitability of death. He wrote many poems reflecting the transience of life and the reality of pain and suffering, particularly in old age.
An example of this is the poem  'Five o' Clock Shadow'.

Five o'Clock Shadow  

This is the time of day when we in the Men's Ward 
Think, "One more surge of the pain and I give up the fight,"
When he who struggles for breath can struggle less strongly:
This is the time of day which is worse than night.

A haze of thunder hangs on the hospital rose-beds,
A doctors' foursome out on the links is played,
Safe in her sitting-room Sister is putting her feet up:
This is the time of day when we feel betrayed.

Below the windows, loads of loving relations
Rev in the car park, changing gear at the bend,
Making for home and a nice big tea and the telly:
" Well we've done what we can.  It can't be long till the end."  

This is the time of day when the weight of bedclothes
Is harder to bear than a sharp incision of steel.
The endless anonymous croak of a cheap transistor
Intensifies the lonely terror I feel.           

                          The Holy Family  (fresco by Veronese 1528-1588)

  'If we are true servants of Mary, and obtain her protection, we most certainly shall be inscribed in the Book of Life'

ack, 'Thoughts from St Alphonsus Liguori' (1696-1787)

Thursday, 23 April 2015

'The Third Day He Rose from the Dead, and Ascended into Heaven'

‘At that time, when it was late that same day, the first of the week, and the doors were shut, where the disciples were gathered together for fear of the Jews, Jesus came, and stood in the midst and said to them: Peace be to you.  And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. The disciples therefore were glad, when they saw the Lord.  He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent Me, I also send you. When He had said this, He breathed on them, and He said to them:  Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them:  and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.  Now Thomas, one of the twelve, who is called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.  The other disciples therefore said to him:  We have seen the Lord. But he said to them:  except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe. And after eight days, again His disciples were within, and Thomas with them.  Jesus cometh, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said:  Peace be to you.  Then He saith to Thomas:  Put in thy finger hither, and see My hands, and bring hither thy hand, and put it into my side;  and be not faithless but believing.  Thomas answered and said to Him;  My Lord and my God.  Jesus saith to him:  Because thou hast seen Me, Thomas, thou hast believed:  blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed.  Many other signs also did Jesus in the sight of His disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that, believing, you may have life in His name.’   
(John  XX.  19-31)

                           Resurrection of Christ - Gerard Seghers (1620)

Over Easter we were the beneficiaries of an excellent sermon from Fr Yousef  F.SS.R. on the subject of Our Lord’s Resurrection. As Catholics, indeed as Christians, belief in Christ's resurrection from the dead, is an article of Faith which we are bound to accept. We are still within the period of Paschaltide, and I hope that you do not mind me sharing a few thoughts on this Divinely momentous event.

1.   The tomb wherein Jesus was laid was guarded by a number of Roman soldiers who had been warned by the Jews to be especially vigilant, as Jesus had stated that after three days he would rise from the dead, and they feared that His followers would try to remove His body.  There was no question of entry to the tomb without the guards being aware, and there was no subsequent report by the guards of any attempt to remove Christ’s body. They reported Christ’s resurrection immediately to their superiors, and were bribed and ordered to keep quiet about it as the Jewish leaders wished to keep it secret. (Mathew 28.  11-13)

2.    When Mary Magdalene visited the tomb she found the stone rolled away, and returned immediately to tell Peter and John, who then both ran to the tomb, where they found the linen cloths in which Christ’s body had been wrapped, lying on the ground, and the cloth head-gear neatly folded up. Mary Magdalene later returned to the tomb, and saw two young man each clothed in a white robe,  who told her not to be afraid, and that Christ had risen from the dead. She saw the ‘gardener’, as she thought, and asked him what had happened to Christ’s body. From His reply, she immediately recognised Him as the risen Christ, Who then gently told her not to touch Him as He was yet to ascend to His Father in heaven. She was to return to the disciples and tell them that she had seen Jesus, repeating His words to them, “I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (John 20.  11-18)

                             Mary Magdalene at Christ's tomb - Rembrandt
3.    Two of Christ’s disciples were travelling on the road to Emmaus, and met a stranger who joined them. The stranger seemed knowledgeable about the events of Christ’s life and explained how all that had happened  fulfilled the prophecies concerning the Messiah. He endeared himself to the men so much that they asked him to stay and eat with them at Emmaus.  At the meal His actions and words were such  that they  recognised him as Christ, whereupon he vanished from their company. (Luke 24.  13-35)

                                                     Supper at Emmaus - Caravaggio

4.     At the beginning of this Post, we learn from St John’s Gospel that the disciples were hiding from the Jews  in a locked room, when Jesus suddenly appeared amongst them. They recognised Him from the wounds in his hands and side, and from His words, and He shared their food with them. The apostle Thomas was not with them on this occasion, and when told later of Christ’s visit, refused to believe unless he actually saw and felt the wounds in His hands and in His side.

5.    A few days later they were again together in the same locked room, this time Thomas was with them.  Christ appeared again, and invited Thomas to feel the wounds in His hands and side, which he did, proclaiming immediately his belief in the risen Christ, with the words ‘my Lord and my God’. Jesus gently rebuked him for his earlier doubt, with the words, “Because thou hast seen me Thomas, thou hast believed, blessed are they that have not seen and have believed”

                                        Incredulity of St Thomas  -  Rembrandt

 6.    Christ also appeared to Simon Peter, James and John, Thomas, Nathaniel and two others of his disciples, when they were fishing in the Sea of Tiberias. They had caught nothing all night, when Jesus called to them from the shore directing them to cast their net yet again, whereupon they were overwhelmed with a huge catch of fish to the extent that the net could hardly hold them.  They then recognised Christ, and Peter jumped overboard and swam to the shore, the others following in the boat. When they had landed they found a fire ready and a fish laid upon it, and bread. Jesus told them to bring some of the fish that they had just caught, and join Him at breakfast. None dared ask him who he was, knowing that He was the Lord.  (John XXI. 3-14)

                                          Miraculous Draft of Fish  -  Tissot
7.    When the accounts of the Christ's resurrection were recorded in the Gospels, many witnesses and contemporaries of the Apostles were still alive. Any doubts concerning Christ’s resurrection, are dispelled by the realisation that the Gospel writers, the Apostles and disciples, and many of their contemporaries and followers, suffered the most cruel martyrdom for the truth of the Gospels, especially the truth of the Resurrection, a truth  more precious to them than life itself, a truth of which they had written and  preached.  The ‘Resurrection’ of Christ is the bed-rock of our Catholic faith, and in the words of St Paul, “If Christ be not risen, vain is our preaching and your faith is as nothing”

8.    Christ’s Ascension into Heaven occurred forty days after His resurrection; witnessed by the eleven Apostles  (Luke 24. 50-53) (Mark16. 19-20) (Acts 1. 9-11)

       Jesus Ascending into Heaven - John Singleton Copley (1775)
9.    Over two millennii, the Catholic Church has grown from a handful of apostles and disciples in a land bordering the eastern Mediterranean, to a Church numbering 1.2 billion members spread throughout the world, and it is still growing. It is the Church founded by Jesus Christ, Who appointed St Peter as the first Pope of an unbroken line of  Popes continuing to the present day, and until the end of time.
In the words of Jesus, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life", and "I will be with you until the end of the world".


I would like to quote from the 'Resurrection', a post by Mgr Charles Pope, 'Archdiocese of Washington' blogsite, April 18th.

  Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish;  he took it and ate it in front of them. He said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
And thus in this gospel the Lord sets forth a kind of continuity and clarification for them. Through various methods He shows them that though gloriously risen and transformed, He who stands before them now is also the same Jesus who walked with them days before. He shows them His hands and side to indicate that He was indeed the one they saw crucified. He bids them to touch Him and see that He is not a ghost. He eats to console them and to show them that He still has fellowship with them among the living; He is no shimmering apparition from another realm. Finally He opens their minds to the understanding of Scripture, so that they may know that all that happened is not some radical break with or tearing up of God’s plan. Rather, it is a fulfillment of all that was written, all that was prophesied. What seems new and different is in fact in line with, in continuity with, all that has gone before. This is the new Passover that opens the way to the true, more glorious and eternal Promised Land of Heaven. This is not failure; it is fulfillment. This is not rejection of the Old Covenant; it is the ratification of it and the transposition of it to a higher and more glorious level than ever before. Moses gave them Manna, but Jesus gives Himself as the true bread from Heaven. Moses gave them water, but Jesus changed water into wine and wine into His saving blood. The blood of the Passover lamb staved off a death that would later come, but the Blood of the True Lamb cancels the second death of Hell.
 Ack. and thanks to Mgr Charles Pope, 'Archdiocese of Washington' blogsite.                          

Finally a moving and beautiful Easter poem from ‘The Mary Book’, an anthology published by Sheed and Ward, 1950

          Christ in Limbo - Duccio de Buoninsegna (c.1255-1319)
                   (ack. Ronald Klip. Artbible.info.)

 LIMBO by Sister Mary Ada

The ancient greyness shifted
Suddenly and thinned
Like mist upon the moors
Before a wind.
An old, old prophet lifted
A shining face and said :
“He will be coming soon.
The Son of God is dead;
He died this afternoon.”

A murmurous excitement stirred
All souls.
They wondered if they dreamed ---
Save one old man who seemed
Not even to have heard.

And Moses standing,
Hushed them all to ask
If any had a welcome song prepared.
If not, would David take the task?
And if they cared
Could not the three young children sing
The Benedicite, the canticle of praise
They made when God kept them from perishing
In the fiery blaze?

A breath of spring surprised them,
Stilling Moses’ words.
No one could speak, remembering
The first fresh flowers,
The little singing birds.
Still others thought of fields new ploughed
Or apple trees
All blossom - boughed.
Or some, the way a dried bed fills
With water
Laughing down green hills.
The fisherfolk dreamed of the foam
On bright blue seas.
The one old man who had not stirred
Remembered home.

And there He was
Splendid as the morning sun and fair
As only God is fair.
And they, confused with joy,
Knelt to adore
Seeing that he wore
Five crimson stars
He never had before.

No canticle at all was sung.
None toned a psalm, or raised a greeting song.
A silent man alone
Of all that throng
Found tongue ----
Not any other.
Close to His heart
When the embrace was done,
Old Joseph said,
“How is Your Mother,
How is Your Mother, Son?”


'Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee'.
'St Joseph, pray for us'.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

In support of our priests, our families, and our Church

ack. "Crowning in Syro-Malabar Nasrani Wedding by Mar Gregory Karotemprel - Eastern Catholic Church" by Achayan - Own work. (Wikimedia)

In support of our priests, our families, and our Church

You may have seen the recent letter from more than 450 priests in support of the Church’s teaching on marriage.

We would like to invite you to sign the letter below, to be sent to the press in support of them, and to encourage others to sign it.

To sign, please leave your name and your diocese in the comments box below, or if you prefer email them to one of the coordinators shown below, or to me at 'bri.marg@btinternet.com'

Mark Lambert (mark@landbtechnical.com) or Andrew Plasom-Scott (andrewplasom_scott@me.com)

The Letter:

Dear Sir,
We, the undersigned, wish to endorse and support the letter signed by over 450 priests in the recent edition of the Catholic Herald, http://bit.ly/19kuBkl
As laity, we all know from our own family experiences, or those of our friends and neighbours, the harrowing trauma of divorce and separation, and we sympathise with all those in such situations.
It is precisely for that reason that we believe that the Church must continue to proclaim the truth about marriage, given us by Christ in the Gospels, with clarity and charity in a world that struggles to understand it.
 For the sake of those in irregular unions, for the sake of those abandoned and living in accordance with the teachings of the Church, and above all for the sake of the next generation, it is essential that the Church continues to make it quite clear that sacramental marriage is indissoluble until death.
  We pray, and expect, that our hierarchy will represent us, and the Church’s unwavering teaching, at the Synod this autumn.
Yours faithfully,
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