Week 163: Thoughts on ‘The Diary of a Nobody’, by John Betjeman

I have never quite made up my mind about John Betjeman – is he to be grouped with those who, in the words of F.R.Leavis, ‘belong to the history of publicity rather than of poetry’, or was he a powerful original talent not least among whose gifts was an ability to engage with a public normally indifferent or hostile to poetry while retaining an idiosyncratic integrity? Well, I may confess to a slight unease about some aspects of his work and persona, but I don’t think it can be denied that he had a genius for evoking the vanished time and the lost place, as in this nostalgic look at suburbia.

Thoughts on ‘The Diary of a Nobody’

The Pooters walked to Watney Lodge
One Sunday morning hot and still
Where public footpaths used to dodge
Round elms and oaks to Muswell Hill.

That burning buttercuppy day
The local dogs were curled in sleep,
The writhing trunks of flowery May
Were polished by the sides of sheep.

And only footsteps in a lane
And birdsong broke the silence round
And chuffs of the Great Northern train
For Alexandra Palace bound.

The Watney Lodge I seem to see
Is gabled gothic hard and red,
With here a monkey puzzle tree
And there a round geranium bed.

Each mansion, each new-planted pine,
Each short and ostentatious drive
Meant Morning Prayer and beef and wine
And Queen Victoria alive.

Dear Charles and Carrie, I am sure,
Despite that awkward Sunday dinner,
Your lives were good and more secure
Than ours at cocktail time in Pinner.

John Betjeman