Sir John Betjeman

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Sir John Betjeman (bĕt´jəmən), 1906–84, English poet, b. London. Traditional in rhyme and meter, his verse combined a witty appraisal of the English present with nostalgia for England's past, especially the Victorian past. His published collections include Mt. Zion (1933), Continental Dew (1937), Old Lights for New Chancels (1940), A Few Late Chrysanthemums (1954), High and Low (1966), Metro–Land (1977), Church Poems (1981), and Collected Poems (1971 and 2006). He also wrote numerous architectural studies, including Ghastly Good Taste or a Depressing Story of the Rise and Fall of English Architecture (1933, rev. ed. 1971) and A Pictorial History of English Architecture (1972). Knighted in 1969, he was named poet laureate of England in 1972.

See Summoned by Bells (1960), an autobiography in verse; biographies by P. Taylor-Martin (1983), B. Hillier (1988 and 2002), and A. N. Wilson (2006); B. Hillier, John Betjeman: A Life in Pictures (1984); C. L. Green, ed., John Betjeman Letters (2 vol., 1994–95); studies by M. L. Stapleton (1974) and F. Delaney (1983).

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Betjeman, Sir John (1906–84). Poet laureate and essayist, whose eccentricity and accessibility have encouraged an undervaluation of his literary gifts. His Collected Poems (1958) sold over a million copies and as broadcaster he became a national institution, championing Victoriana and the disappearing ‘Metro-land’ of his youth. Unhappy at Marlborough, he blossomed at Oxford, where he moved in literary circles and went on to write for the Architectural Review. His first book, Mount Sion (1931), testifies to an enduring fascination with the Anglican church, and hymn forms are often reflected in his traditional metrics. Cornwall and the home counties repeatedly engage his ‘topographical predilection’, and he documents the doings of middle-class suburbia with a mixture of nostalgia and irony. He has something of Thomas Hardy's sadness and simplicity, but a greater capacity for enjoyment—of remembered tennis parties, for example, with Miss J. Hunter Dunn, ‘furnish'd and burnish'd by Aldershot sun’.

John Saunders

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Betjeman, Sir John (1906–84) English poet. Traditional in form, accessible in sentiment, and often apparently parochial in his concern with English social and domestic life, the seriousness and accomplishment of Betjeman's poetry has often been obscured by its popularity. His Collected Poems (1958; rev. 1962) was a bestseller. Poet Laureate from 1972, Betjeman was also a broadcaster and idiosyncratic architectural critic.