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Although it is night, I sit in the bathroom, waiting.
Sweat prickles behind my knees, the baby-breasts are alert.
Venetian blinds slice up the moon; the tiles quiver in pale strips.
Then they come, the three seal men with eyes as round
As dinner plates and eyelashes like sharpened tines.
They bring the scent of licorice. One sits in the washbowl,
One on the bathtub edge; one leans against the door.
“Can you feel it yet?” they whisper.
I don’t know what to say, again. They chuckle,
Patting their sleek bodies with their hands.
“Well, maybe next time.” And they rise,
Glittering like pools of ink under moonlight,
And vanish. I clutch at the ragged holes
They leave behind, here at the edge of darkness.
Night rests like a ball of fur on my tongue.
In the old neighborhood, each funeral parlor
is more elaborate than the last.
The alleys smell of cops, pistols bumping their thighs,
each chamber steeled with a slim blue bullet.
Low-rent balconies stacked to the sky.
A boy plays tic-tac-toe on a moon
crossed by TV antennae, dreams
he has swallowed a blue bean.
It takes root in his gut, sprouts
and twines upward, the vines curling
around the sockets and locking them shut.
And this sky, knotting like a dark tie?
The patroller, disinterested, holds all the beans.
August. The mums nod past, each a prickly heart on a sleeve.
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 built our school.
Now only I am left to keep the rule.
Here in the gardens of the Spa Pavillion
Warm in the whisper of the summer sea,
The cushioned scabious, a deep vermillion,
With white pins stuck in it, looks up at me
A sun-lit kingdom touched by butterflies
And so my memory of the 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 cakeshop'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 sympathising,
Safe with the love I was born to know,
Safe from the surging of the lonely sea
My heart finds rest, my heart finds rest in Thee.
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 of 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 clock is frozen in the tower,
The thickening fog with sooty smell
Has blanketed the motor power
Which turns the London streets to hell;
And footsteps with their lonely sound
Intensify the silence round.
I haven't hope. I haven't faith.
I live two lives and sometimes three.
The lives I live make life a death
For those who have to live with me.
Knowing the virtues that I lack,
I pat myself upon the back.
With breastplate of self-righteousness
And shoes of smugness on my feet,
Before the urge in me grows less
I hurry off to make retreat.
For somewhere, somewhere, burns a light
To lead me out into the night.
It glitters icy, thin and plain,
And leads me down to Waterloo-
Into a warm electric train
Which travels sorry Surrey through
And crystal-hung, the clumps of pine
Stand deadly still beside the line.
OVER the meadows, and down the stream,
And through the garden-walks straying,
He plucks the flowers that fairest seem;
His throbbing heart brooks no delaying.
His maiden then comes--oh, what ecstasy!
Thy flowers thou giv'st for one glance of her eye!
The gard'ner next door o'er the hedge sees the youth:
"I'm not such a fool as that, in good truth;
My pleasure is ever to cherish each flower,
And see that no birds my fruit e'er devour.
But when 'tis ripe, your money, good neighbour!
'Twas not for nothing I took all this labour!"
And such, methinks, are the author-tribe.
The one his pleasures around him strews,
That his friends, the public, may reap, if they choose;
The other would fain make them all subscribe.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
FLOURISH greener, as ye clamber,
Oh ye leaves, to seek my chamber,
Up the trellis'd vine on high!
May ye swell, twin-berries tender,
Juicier far,--and with more splendour
Ripen, and more speedily!
O'er ye broods the sun at even
As he sinks to rest, and heaven
Softly breathes into your ear
All its fertilising fullness,
While the moon's refreshing coolness,
Magic-laden, hovers near;
And, alas! ye're watered ever
By a stream of tears that rill
From mine eyes--tears ceasing never,
Tears of love that nought can still!
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
OH, enter old minstrel, thou time-honour'd one!
We children are here in the hall all alone,
The portals we straightway will bar.
Our mother is praying, our father is gone
To the forest, on wolves to make war.
Oh sing us a ballad, the tale then repeat,
'Till brother and I learn it right;
We long have been hoping a minstrel to meet,
For children hear tales with delight.
"At midnight, when darkness its fearful veil weaves,
His lofty and stately old castle he leaves,
But first he has buried his wealth.
What figure is that in his arms one perceives,
As the Count quits the gateway by stealth?
O'er what is his mantle so hastily thrown?
What bears he along in his flight?
A daughter it is, and she gently sleeps on"--
The children they hear with delight.
"The morning soon glimmers. the world is so wide,
In valleys and forests a home is supplied,
The bard in each village is cheer'd.
Thus lives he and wanders, while years onward glide,
And longer still waxes his beard;
But the maiden so fair in his arms grows amain,
'Neath her star all-protecting and bright,
Secured in the mantle from wind and from rain--"
The children they hear with delight.
"And year upon year with swift footstep now steals,
The mantle it fades, many rents it reveals,
The maiden no more it can hold.
The father he sees her, what rapture he feels!
His joy cannot now be controll'd.
How worthy she seems of the race whence she springs,
How noble and fair to the sight!
What wealth to her dearly-loved father she brings!"--
The children they hear with delight.
"Then comes there a princely knight galloping by,
She stretches her hand out, as soon as he's nigh,
But alms he refuses to give.
He seizes her hand, with a smile in his eye:
'Thou art mine!' he exclaims, 'while I live!'
'When thou know'st,' cries the old man, 'the treasure that's
A princess thou'lt make her of right;
Betroth'd be she now, on this spot green and fair--'"
The children they hear with delight.
"So she's bless'd by the priest on the hallowed place,
And she goes with a smiling but sorrowful face,
From her father she fain would not part.
The old man still wanders with ne'er-changing pace,
He covers with joy his sad heart.
So I think of my daughter, as years pass away,
And my grandchildren far from my sight;
I bless them by night, and I bless them by day"--
The children they hear with delight.
He blesses the children: a knocking they hear,
The father it is! They spring forward in fear,
The old man they cannot conceal--
"Thou beggar, wouldst lure, then, my children so dear?
Straight seize him, ye vassals of steel!
To the dungeon most deep, with the fool-hardy knave!"
The mother from far hears the fight;
She hastens with flatt'ring entreaty to crave--
The children they hear with delight.
The vassals they suffer the Bard to stand there,
And mother and children implore him to spare,
The proud prince would stifle his ire,
'Till driven to fury at hearing their prayer,
His smouldering anger takes fire:
"Thou pitiful race! Oh, thou beggarly crew!
Eclipsing my star, once so bright!
Ye'll bring me destruction, ye sorely shall rue!"
The children they hear with affright.
The old man still stands there with dignified mien,
The vassals of steel quake before him, I ween,
The Count's fury increases in power;
"My wedded existence a curse long has been,
And these are the fruits from that flower!
'Tis ever denied, and the saying is true,
That to wed with the base-born is right;
The beggar has borne me a beggarly crew,--"
The children they hear with affright.
"If the husband, the father, thus treats you with scorn,
If the holiest bonds by him rashly are torn,
Then come to your father--to me!
The beggar may gladden life's pathway forlorn,
Though aged and weak he may be.
This castle is mine! thou hast made it thy prey,
Thy people 'twas put me to flight;
The tokens I bear will confirm what I say"--
The children they hear with delight.
"The king who erst govern'd returneth again,
And restores to the Faithful the goods that were ta'en,
I'll unseal all my treasures the while;
The laws shall be gentle, and peaceful the reign"--
The old man thus cries with a smile--
"Take courage, my son! all hath turned out for good,
And each hath a star that is bright,
Those the princess hath borne thee are princely in blood,"--
The children thy hear with delight.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
THE father's name ye ne'er shall be told
Of my darling unborn life;
"Shame, shame," ye cry, "on the strumpet bold!"
Yet I'm an honest wife.
To whom I'm wedded, ye ne'er shall be told,
Yet he's both loving and fair;
He wears on his neck a chain of gold,
And a hat of straw doth he wear.
If scorn 'tis vain to seek to repel,
On me let the scorn be thrown.
I know him well, and he knows me well,
And to God, too, all is known.
Sir Parson and Sir Bailiff, again,
I pray you, leave me in peace!
My child it is, my child 'twill remain,
So let your questionings cease!
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
OH, my Theresa dear!
Thine eyes, I greatly fear,
Can through the bandage see!
Although thine eyes are bound,
By thee I'm quickly found,
And wherefore shouldst thou catch but me?
Ere long thou held'st me fast,
With arms around me cast,
Upon thy breast I fell;
Scarce was thy bandage gone,
When all my joy was flown,
Thou coldly didst the blind repel.
He groped on ev'ry side,
His limbs he sorely tried,
While scoffs arose all round;
If thou no love wilt give,
In sadness I shall live,
As if mine eyes remain'd still bound.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Dove was born in Akron, Ohio to Ray Dove, the first African American chemist to work in the U.S. tire industry (as research chemist at Goodyear), and Elvira Hord, who achieved honors in high school and would share her passion for reading with her daughter. In 1970 Dove graduated from Buchtel High School as a Presidential Scholar, making her one of the 100 top American high school graduates that year. Later, Dove graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. from Miami University in 1973 and received her MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1977. In 1974 she held a Fulbright Scholarship from Eberhard Karls University, Tübingen, Germany.
Dove taught creative writing at Arizona State University from 1981 to 1989. She received the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry, and in 1993, at age 40, she was named Poet Laureate of the United States. by the Librarian of Congress, an office she held from 1993 to 1995 as the youngest person, and as the first and to date only African American. Gwendolyn Brooks had been the last Consultant in Poetry in 1985-86, prior to U.S. Congress' action renaming the position Poet Laureate.
Since 1989 she has been teaching at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where she holds the chair of Commonwealth Professor of English.
Rita Dove served as Special Bicentennial Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress in 1999/2000, along with Louise Glück and W. S. Merwin. In 2004 then-governor Mark Warner of Virginia appointed her to a two-year position as Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia. In her public posts, Dove concentrated on spreading the word about poetry and increasing public awareness of the benefits of literature. As Poet Laureate of Virginia, she also brought together writers to explore the African diaspora through the eyes of its artists.
Dove’s work cannot be confined to a specific era or school in contemporary literature; her wide-ranging topics and the precise poetic language with which she captures complex emotions defy easy categorization. Her most famous work to date is Thomas and Beulah, published by Carnegie-Mellon University Press in 1986, a collection of poems loosely based on the lives of her maternal grandparents, for which she received the Pulitzer Prize in 1987. She has published nine volumes of poetry, a book of short stories (Fifth Sunday, 1985), a collection of essays (The Poet's World, 1995), and a novel Through the Ivory Gate (1992).
In 1994 she published a play The Darker Face of the Earth; revised stage version 1996), which premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon in 1996 (first European production: Royal National Theatre, London, 1999). She collaborated with composer John Williams on the song cycle "Seven for Luck" (first performance: Boston Symphony, Tanglewood, 1998, conducted by the composer). For "America's Millennium", the White House's 1999/2000 New Year's celebration, Ms. Dove contributed — in a live reading at the Lincoln Memorial, accompanied by John Williams's music — a poem to Steven Spielberg's documentary The Unfinished Journey. Dove's latest collection of poetry, Sonata Mulattica, was published in April 2009.
Besides her Pulitzer Prize, she has received numerous literary and academic honors, among them 22 honorary doctorates, the 1996 National Humanities Medal / Charles Frankel Prize, the 3rd Annual Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities in 1997, and most recently, the 2006 Commonwealth Award of Distinguished Service in Literature, the 2008 Library of Virginia Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2009 Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal and the 2009 Premio Capri (Italy). From 1994-2000 she was a senator (member of the governing board) of the national academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa, and she is currently a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She has been a featured poet at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival on many occasions, most recently in 2010.
Dove married Fred Viebahn, a German-born writer in 1979. Their daughter Aviva was born in 1983. The couple are avid ballroom dancers, and have participated in a number of competitions. Dove and her husband live in Charlottesville, Virginia.
He was a founding member of the Victorian Society and a passionate defender of Victorian architecture. Starting his career as a journalist, he ended it as one of the most popular British Poets Laureate to date and a much-loved figure on British television.
Early life and education
Betjeman was born "John Betjemann"; this was changed to the less German "Betjeman" during the First World War. He grew up at Parliament Hill Mansions in the Lissenden Gardens private estate in Highgate in North London.
His parents Mabel (née Dawson) and Ernest Betjemann had a family firm which manufactured the kind of ornamental household furniture and gadgets distinctive to Victorians. His father's forebears had come from the Netherlands, more than a century earlier, setting up their home and business in Islington, London. Betjeman was baptised at St. Anne's Church Highgate Rise, a 19th Century church situated just at the foot of Highgate West Hill.
In 1909, the Betjemanns left the Parliament Hill Mansions, moving half a mile north to more opulent Highgate. From West Hill they lived in the reflected glory of the Burdett-Coutts estate:
- "Here from my eyrie, as the sun went down,
- I heard the old North London puff and shunt,
- Glad that I did not live in Gospel Oak."
Betjeman's early schooling was at the local Byron House and Highgate School, where he was taught by the poet T. S. Eliot. After this, he boarded at the Dragon School preparatory school in North Oxford and Marlborough College, a public school in Wiltshire. In his penultimate year, he joined the secret 'Society of Amici' in which he was a contemporary of both Louis MacNeice and Graham Shepard. Reading the works of Arthur Machen while at school, won him over to High Church Anglicanism, a conversion of importance and to his later writing and conception of the arts.
Magdalen College, Oxford
Betjeman entered the University of Oxford with considerable difficulty, having failed the mathematics portion of the university's matriculation exam, Responsions. He was, however, admitted as a commoner (i.e. a non-scholarship student) at Magdalen College and entered the newly created School of English Language and Literature. At Oxford, Betjeman made little use of the academic opportunities. His tutor, a young C. S. Lewis, regarded him as an "idle prig" and Betjeman in turn considered Lewis unfriendly, demanding, and uninspired as a teacher. Betjeman particularly disliked the coursework's emphasis on linguistics, and dedicated most of his time to cultivating his social life, his interest in English ecclesiastical architecture, and to private literary pursuits. He had a poem published in Isis, the university magazine and was editor of the Cherwell student newspaper during 1927. His first book of poems was privately printed with the help of fellow-student Edward James. He famously brought his teddy bear Archibald Ormsby-Gore up to Magdalen with him, the memory of which later inspired his Oxford contemporary Evelyn Waugh to include Sebastian Flyte's teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited. Much of this period of his life is recorded in his blank verse autobiography, Summoned by Bells published in 1960 and made into a television film in 1976.
It is a common misapprehension, cultivated by Betjeman himself, that he did not complete his degree because he failed to pass the compulsory holy scripture examination, known as Divinity, or, colloquially, as "Divvers". In Hilary Term 1928, Betjeman failed Divinity for the second time. He had to leave the university (rustication) for the Trinity Term to prepare for a retake of the exam; he was then allowed to return in October. Betjeman then wrote to the Secretary of the Tutorial Board at Magdalen, G. C. Lee, asking to be entered for the Pass School, a set of examinations taken on rare occasions by undergraduates who are deemed unlikely to achieve an honours degree. In his verse autobiography, Summoned by Bells, Betjeman claims that his tutor, C. S. Lewis, said "You'd have only got a third". However, Lewis had informed the tutorial board that he thought Betjeman would not achieve an honours degree of any class.
Permission to sit the Pass School was granted. Betjeman famously decided to offer a paper in Welsh. Osbert Lancaster tells the story that a tutor came by train twice a week (first class) from Aberystwyth to teach Betjeman. However, Jesus College had a number of Welsh tutors who more probably would have taught him. Betjeman finally had to leave at the end of the Michaelmas Term, 1928. Betjeman did pass his Divinity examination on his third try but was 'sent down' after failing the Pass School. He had achieved a satisfactory result in only one of the three required papers (on Shakespeare and other English authors). Betjeman's academic failure at Oxford rankled him for the rest of his life and he was never reconciled with C.S. Lewis, towards whom he nursed a bitter detestation. This situation was perhaps complicated by his enduring love of Oxford, from which he accepted an honorary doctorate of letters in 1974.
Betjeman left Oxford without a degree but he had made the acquaintance of people who would influence his work, including Louis MacNeice and W. H. Auden After university, Betjeman worked briefly as a private secretary, school teacher and film critic for the Evening Standard. He was employed by the Architectural Review between 1930 and 1935, as a full time assistant editor, following their publishing of some of his freelance work. Mowl (2000) says, "His years at the Architectural Review were to be his true university". At this time, while his prose style matured, he joined the MARS Group, an organisation of young modernist architects and architectural critics in Britain.
On 29 July 1933 Betjeman married the Hon. Penelope Chetwode, the daughter of Field Marshal Lord Chetwode. The couple lived in Berkshire and had a son, Paul, in 1937. Their daughter, Candida Lycett Green was born in 1942.
The Shell Guides, were developed by Betjeman and Jack Beddington, a friend who was publicity manager with Shell-Mex Ltd. The series aimed to guide Britain's growing number of motorists around the counties of Britain and their historical sites. They were published by the Architectural Press and financed by Shell. By the start of World War II 13 had been published, of which Cornwall (1934) and Devon (1936) had been written by Betjeman. A third, Shropshire, was written with and designed by his good friend John Piper in 1951.
In 1939, Betjeman was rejected for active service in World War II but found war work with the films division of the Ministry of Information. In 1941 he became British press attaché in Dublin, Ireland, then a neutral country, working with Sir John Maffey. He may have been involved with the gathering of intelligence. He is reported to have been selected for assassination by the IRA. The order was rescinded after a meeting with an unnamed Old I.R.A. man who was impressed by his works. Betjeman wrote a number of poems based on his experiences in "Emergency" World War II Ireland including "The Irish Unionist's Farewell to Greta Hellstrom in 1922" (actually written during the war) which contained the refrain "Dungarvan in the rain". " Greta", the object of his affections, has remained a mystery until recently revealed to have been a member of a well known West Waterford Ascendancy family.
After the Second World War
John's wife, Penelope Betjeman became a Roman Catholic in 1948. The couple drifted apart and in 1951 he met Lady Elizabeth Cavendish, with whom he developed an immediate and lifelong friendship.
By 1948 Betjeman had published more than a dozen books. Five of these were verse collections, including one in the USA. Sales of his Collected Poems in 1958 reached 100,000. The popularity of the book prompted Ken Russell to make a film about him, John Betjeman: A Poet in London (1959). Filmed in 35mm and running 11 minutes and 35 seconds, it was first shown in England on BBC's Monitor programme. He continued writing guidebooks and works on architecture during the 1960s and 1970s and started broadcasting. He was also a founder member of The Victorian Society (1958). Betjeman was also closely associated with the culture and spirit of Metro-land, as outer reaches of the Metropolitan Railway were known before the war. In 1973 he made a widely acclaimed television documentary for the BBC called Metro-land, directed by Edward Mirzoeff. On the centenary of Betjeman's birth in 2006, his daughter led two celebratory railway trips: one from London to Bristol, the other, through Metro-land, to Quainton Road. In 1975, he proposed that the Fine Rooms of Somerset House should house the Turner Bequest, so helping to scupper the plan of the Minister for the Arts for a Theatre Museum to be housed there.
Betjeman was fond of the ghost stories of M.R. James and supplied an introduction to Peter Haining's book M.R. James – Book of the Supernatural. He was susceptible to the supernatural. Diana Mitford tells the story of Betjeman staying at her country home, Biddesden House, in the 1920s. She says, "he had a terrifying dream, that he was handed a card with wide black edges, and on it his name was engraved, and a date. He knew this was the date of his death".
For the last decade of his life Betjeman suffered increasingly from Parkinson's Disease. He died at his home in Trebetherick, Cornwall on 19 May 1984, aged 77 and is buried half a mile away in the churchyard at St Enodoc's Church.
Betjeman's poems are often humorous and in broadcasting he exploited his bumbling and fogeyish image. His wryly comic verse is accessible and has attracted a great following for its satirical and observant grace. Auden said in his introduction to Slick But Not Streamlined, "so at home with the provincial gaslit towns, the seaside lodgings, the bicycle, the harmonium." His poetry is similarly redolent of time and place, continually seeking out intimations of the eternal in the manifestly ordinary. There are constant evocations of the physical chaff and clutter that accumulates in everyday life, the miscellanea of an England now gone but not beyond the reach of living memory. He talks of Ovaltine and the Sturmey-Archer bicycle gear. "Oh! Fuller's angel cake, Robertson's marmalade," he writes, "Liberty lampshades, come shine on us all." In a 1962 radio interview he told teenage questioners that he could not write about 'abstract things', preferring places, and faces. Philip Larkin wrote of his work, "how much more interesting & worth writing about Betjeman's subjects are than most other modern poets, I mean, whether so-and-so achieves some metaphysical inner unity is not really so interesting to us as the overbuilding of rural Middlesex".
Betjeman was a practising Anglican and his religious beliefs come through in some of his poems. He combined piety with a nagging uncertainty about the truth of Christianity. Unlike Thomas Hardy, who disbelieved in the truth of the Christmas story, while hoping it might be so, Betjeman affirms his belief even while fearing it might be false. In the poem "Christmas", one of his most openly religious pieces, the last three stanzas that proclaim the wonder of Christ's birth do so in the form of a question "And is it true...?" His views on Christianity were expressed in his poem "The Conversion of St. Paul", a response to a radio broadcast by humanist Margaret Knight:
- But most of us turn slow to see
- The figure hanging on a tree
- And stumble on and blindly grope
- Upheld by intermittent hope,
- God grant before we die we all
- May see the light as did St. Paul.
Betjeman became Poet Laureate in 1972, the first Knight Bachelor ever to be appointed (the only other, Sir William Davenant, had been knighted after his appointment). This role, combined with his popularity as a television performer, ensured that his poetry eventually reached an audience enormous by the standards of the time. Similarly to Tennyson, he appealed to a wide public and managed to voice the thoughts and aspirations of many ordinary people while retaining the respect of many of his fellow poets. This is partly because of the apparently simple traditional metrical structures and rhymes he uses. In the early 1970s, he began a recording career of four albums on Charisma Records which included "Banana Blush" (1973) and "Late Flowering Love" (1974), where his poetry reading is set to music with overdubbing by leading musicians of the time.
Betjeman and architecture
Betjeman had a fondness for Victorian architecture and was a founding member of Victorian Society. He led the campaign to save Holy Trinity, Sloane Street in London when it was threatened with demolition in the early 1970s. He fought a spirited but ultimately unsuccessful campaign to save the Propylaeum, known commonly as the Euston Arch, London. He is considered instrumental in helping to save the famous façade of St. Pancras railway station, London and was commemorated when it re-opened as an international and domestic terminus in November 2007. He called the plan to demolish St. Pancras a "criminal folly". About the station itself he wrote" "What [the Londoner] sees in his mind's eye is that cluster of towers and pinnacles seen from Pentonville Hill and outlined against a foggy sunset, and the great arc of Barlow's train shed gaping to devour incoming engines, and the sudden burst of exuberant Gothic of the hotel seen from gloomy Judd Street." On the re-opening St. Pancras in 2007, a statue of Betjeman was erected in the station at platform level.
Betjeman responded to architecture as the visible manifestation of society's spiritual life as well as its political and economic structure. He attacked speculators and bureaucrats for what he saw as their rapacity and lack of imagination. In the preface of his collection of architectural essays, First and Last Loves says: "We accept the collapse of the fabrics of our old churches, the thieving of lead and objects from them, the commandeering and butchery of our scenery by the services, the despoiling of landscaped parks and the abandonment to a fate worse than the workhouse of our country houses, because we are convinced we must save money." In a BBC film made in 1968 but not broadcast at that time, Betjeman described the sound of Leeds to be of "Victorian buildings crashing to the ground". He went on to lambaste John Poulson's building, British Railways House (now City House) saying how it blocked all the light out to City Square and was only a testament to money with no architectural merit. He also praised the architecture of Leeds Town Hall. In 1969 Betjeman contributed the foreword to Derek Linstrum's Historic Architecture of Leeds.
- A memorial window, designed by John Piper, is set in All Saints' Church, Farnborough, Berkshire, where Betjeman lived in the adjoining Rectory.
- The Betjeman Millennium Park at Wantage in Oxfordshire (formerly in Berkshire), was where he lived from 1951 to 1972 and where he set his book, Archie and the Strict Baptists
- The John Betjeman Young People's Poetry Competition was inaugurated in 2006 to celebrate Betjeman's centenary. The competition is open to 11–14 year olds living anywhere in the British Isles and the Republic of Ireland. The spirit behind the competition is to encourage young people to understand and appreciate the importance of place.
- One of the two engines used on the pier railway at Southend-on-Sea is named Sir John Betjeman (the other being Sir William Heygate).
- In 2003, to mark their Centenary, the residents of Lissenden Gardens in London put up a plaque to mark Betjeman's birth place.
- 1960 Queen's Medal for Poetry
- 1960 CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire)
- 1968 Companion of Literature, the Royal Society of Literature
- 1969 Knight Bachelor
- 1972 Poet Laureate
- 1973 Honorary Member, the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
- Mount Zion (1932)
- Continual Dew (1937)
- Old Lights For New Chancels (1940)
- New Bats In Old Belfries (1945)
- A Few Late Chrysanthemums (1954)
- Poems In The Porch (1954)
- Summoned By Bells (1960)
- High and Low (1966)
- A Nip In The Air (1974)
Born August 28, 1898 in Western Pennsylvania, Cowley grew up in Pittsburgh, where his father William was a homeopathic doctor. He graduated from Peabody High School where his friend Kenneth Burke was also a student. He obtained a B.A. from Harvard University in 1920.
He interrupted his undergraduate studies to join the American Field Service in France during World War I. From the Western Front he reported on the war for The Pittsburgh Gazette (today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).
Marriage and family
Upon returning to the USA, Cowley married artist Peggy Baird; they were divorced in 1931. His second wife was Muriel Maurer. Together they had one son, Robert William Cowley, who is an editor and military historian.
Life in Paris
As one of the dozens of creative literary and artistic figures who migrated during the 1920s to Paris, France and congregated in Montparnasse, Cowley returned to live in France for three years, where he worked with Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, Ezra Pound, E. E. Cummings, Gerald and Sara Murphy, Edmund Wilson, Erskine Caldwell, Harry Crosby, Caresse Crosby and others. He is usually regarded as representative of America's Lost Generation. Hemingway removed direct reference to Cowley in a later version of The Snows of Kilimanjaro, replacing his name with the description, "that American poet with a pile of saucers in front of him and a stupid look on his potato face talking about the Dada movement".:214 John Dos Passos's private correspondence revealed the contempt he held for Cowley, but also the care writers took to hide their personal feelings in order to protect their own careers when Cowley became assistant editor of The New Republic.:214 From his two decades of struggling, he (along with Edmund Wilson) later became a well-known chronicler of the expatriate generation.
Perhaps the most famous work he wrote was his early book of poetry, Blue Juniata (1929), encouraged by Hart Crane. His most autobiographical was Exile's Return, published in 1934. The second book is one of the first published in the United States about the "Lost Generation", and was reissued in a less radical edition with new material, like his Fitzgerald revivals, in 1951. American literary historian Van Wyck Brooks described it as "an irreplaceable literary record of the most dramatic period in American literary history."Coming under the influence of Theodore Dreiser, Cowley became increasingly involved in radical politics. In 1932 Cowley joined Mary Heaton Vorse, Edmund Wilson and Waldo Frank as union-sponsored observers of the miners' strikes in Kentucky. The men's lives were threatened by the mine owners and Frank was badly beaten up. The following year Cowley published Exile's Return in 1933. The book was largely ignored and sold only 800 copies in the first twelve months. The following year he published an autobiography, The Dream of Golden Mountains (1934).
In 1935 Cowley and other left-wing writers established the League of American Writers. Other members included Erskine Caldwell, Archibald MacLeish, Upton Sinclair, Clifford Odets, Langston Hughes, Carl Sandburg, Carl Van Doren, Waldo Frank, David Ogden Stewart, John Dos Passos, Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett. Cowley was appointed vice president and over the next few years Cowley was involved in several campaigns, including attempts to persuade the United States government to support the republicans in the Spanish Civil War. However, he resigned in 1940 because he felt the organization was under the control of the American Communist Party.
In 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Archibald MacLeish as head of the Office of Facts and Figures. MacLeish recruited Cowley as his deputy. This decision soon resulted in right-wing journalists such as Whittaker Chambers and Westbrook Pegler writing articles pointing out Cowley's left-wing past. One member of Congress, Martin Dies of Texas, accused Cowley of having connections to 72 communist or communist-front organizations.
MacLeish came under pressure from J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, to sack Cowley. In January 1942, MacLeish replied that the FBI agents needed a course of instruction in history. "Don't you think it would be a good thing if all investigators could be made to understand that Liberalism is not only not a crime but actually the attitude of the President of the United States and the greater part of his Administration?" In March 1942 Cowley, vowing never again to write about politics, resigned from the Office of Facts and Figures.
Cowley now became literary adviser to Viking Press. He now began to edit the selected works of important American writers. Viking Portable editions by Cowley included Ernest Hemingway (1944), William Faulkner (1946) and Nathaniel Hawthorne (1948). In 1949 Cowley returned to the political scene by testifying at the second Alger Hiss trial. His testimony contradicted the main evidence supplied by Whittaker Chambers.
Cowley published a revised edition of Exile's Return in 1951. This time the book sold much better. He also published The Literary Tradition (1954) and edited a new edition of Leaves of Grass (1959) by Walt Whitman. This was followed by Black Cargoes, A History of the Atlantic Slave Trade (1962), Fitzgerald and the Jazz Age (1966), Think Back on Us (1967), Collected Poems (1968), Lesson of the Masters (1971) and A Second Flowering (1973).
Cowley began reviewing books during his college days (at USD 1 each) and edited and contributed to small journals. His biggest impact was from 1929 through 1944, when he was an assistant editor at The New Republic. During this period, as with a number of American writers and artists, he became a radical Marxist and began writing about politics in addition to his many literary productions. Like some of his peers, Cowley came under scrutiny by J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI. During World War II, he was an information analyst for the Office of Strategic Services.
As an editorial consultant to Viking Press, he pushed for the publication of Jack Kerouac's On the Road. In 1946 Cowley edited Viking's edition of The Portable Faulkner, and his introduction is generally considered a turning point in William Faulkner's reputation in the United States at a time when many of his early works were in danger of going out of print. Cowley's work anthologizing 28 Fitzgerald short stories and editing a reissue of Tender is the Night, restructured based on Fitzgerald's notes, both in 1951, were key to reviving Fitzgerald's reputation as well, and his introduction to Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, written in the early 1960s, is said to have had a similar effect on Anderson's reputation. Other works of literary and critical importance include Eight More Harvard Poets (1923), A Second Flowering: Works & Days of the Lost Generation (1973), And I Worked at the Writer's Trade (1978), and The Dream of the Golden Mountains: Remembering the 1930s (1980).
When The Portable Malcolm Cowley (Donald Faulkner, editor) was published in 1990, the year after Cowley's death, Michael Rogers wrote in Library Journal: "Though a respected name in hardcore literary circles, in general the late Cowley is one of the unsung heroes of 20th-century American literature. Poet, critic, Boswell of the Lost Generation of which he himself was a member, savior of Faulkner's dwindling reputation, editor of Kerouac's On the Road, discoverer of John Cheever, Cowley knew everybody and wrote about them with sharp insight. . . . . Cowley's writings on the great books are as important as the books themselves . . . . All American literature collections should own this."
To the end, Cowley remained a humanitarian in the world of letters. He wrote writer Louise Bogan in 1941, "I'm almost getting pathologically tender-hearted. I have been caused so much pain by reviewers and political allrightniks of several shades of opinion that I don't want to cause pain to anybody." He remained devoted to Hemingway, even as Hemingway's public profile was dropping near the time of Cowley's death.
- Paul, Jay (1989). The selected correspondence of Kenneth Burke and Malcolm Cowley, 1915-1981. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520068995.
- Malcolm Cowley, The Faulkner-Cowley File: Letters and Memories, 1944-1962, New York: Viking, 1966