Jonathan's Jottings

Thoughts from Emmanuel's Minister, Revd. Jonathan Froggatt.

John Betjeman and Faith

One of my favourite poets is John Betjeman. He has that precious gift, given to all poets, of being able to capture a scene in just a few words. Here are the first three verses of his poem, Cornish Cliffs.

Those moments, tasted once and never done,
Of long surf breaking in the mid-day sun.
A far-off blow hole booming like a gun.

The seagulls plane and circle out of sight
Below this thirsty, thrift encrusted height,
The veined sea-campion buds burst into white

And gorse turns tawny orange, seen beside
Pale drifts of primroses cascading wide
To where the slate falls sheer into the tide.

      Betjeman knew and loved the countryside and especially parish churches. He campaigned tirelessly for their preservation and was part of the team that prevented the demolition of Holy Trinity, Sloane Street in London in the 1970’s. This love of churches was rooted in a fascination with architecture but also in his Christian faith. In his poem Felixstowe or The Last Her Order, he tells of an Anglican nun looking back over her life. She walks through the gardens of the Spa Pavilion bound for the “red brick twilight of St Johns.” The last verse goes like this:

 “Thou knowest my down sitting and mine uprising”
Here where the white light burns with steady glow
Safe from the vain world’s silly sympathising,
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.

     Betjeman’s own faith is contained in the affirmation in the last line. However, he is honest enough to express his times of doubt. One of his poems is called Before the Anaesthetic or A Real Fright. In this poem he is eloquent in turning his fears into words and feelings we can all understand as he is wheeled into the operating theatre.

      Humour is never far from Betjeman’s writing. He knows enough about Christians to know that sometimes our prayers can be self-centred. In Westminster Abbey tells of a wealthy lady praying in the Abbey.

Although dear Lord I am a sinner,
I have done no major crime;
Now I’ll come to Evening Service
Whensoever I have the time.
So, Lord, reserve for me a crown,
And do not let my shares go down.

         I love Betjeman’s poems in all their richness and variety. I love his beautiful descriptions of nature and his insight into human nature. If you have a spare moment, I would recommend his poems to you, they will make you smile and make you think. 

God bless you all,


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