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In Westminster Abbey -- John Betjeman

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor:
(Poem #613) In Westminster Abbey
 Let me take this other glove off
   As the vox humana swells,
 And the beauteous fields of Eden
   Bask beneath the Abbey bells.
 Here, where England's statesmen lie,
 Listen to a lady's cry.

 Gracious Lord, oh bomb the Germans.
   Spare their women for Thy Sake,
 And if that is not too easy
   We will pardon Thy Mistake.
 But, gracious Lord, whate'er shall be,
 Don't let anyone bomb me.

 Keep our Empire undismembered
   Guide our Forces by Thy Hand,
 Gallant blacks from far Jamaica,
   Honduras and Togoland;
 Protect them Lord in all their fights,
 And, even more, protect the whites.

 Think of what our Nation stands for,
   Books from Boots and country lanes,
 Free speech, free passes, class distinction,
   Democracy and proper drains.
 Lord, put beneath Thy special care
 One-eighty-nine Cadogan Square.

 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 will labour for Thy Kingdom,
   Help our lads to win the war,
 Send white flowers to the cowards
   Join the Women's Army Corps,
 Then wash the Steps around Thy Throne
 In the Eternal Safety Zone.

 Now I feel a little better,
   What a treat to hear Thy word,
 Where the bones of leading statesmen,
   Have so often been interr'd.
 And now, dear Lord, I cannot wait
 Because I have a luncheon date.
-- John Betjeman
I don't want to run down patriotism, or the giving of charity - both are
always needed. But I have my suspicions - to the point of rather retching -
at the quick and easy way patriotism is quickly taken up by people, and just
as quickly dropped (except where required for electoral purposes). About
Betjeman no info at hand, and I know there's tons, about his Poet
Laureateship, and his public image and more, but am too lazy to go rooting
for it at the moment.


PS. Bio: poem #543 - t.

32 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Lugassy said...

I am so glad I found this poem! It was my favourite poem in highschool but all I could remember were the last two lines.
I love it even more today!
Coline Lugassy
Translating Agency Coline Lugassy in the Netherlands

buggzie said...

hello there, i'm also a fan of 'in west minister abbey'. i wanted to find out if you have any deep, insightful reading of the poem? I just always wanted to know if it could be read in any other way.

Thank you

Tom said...

refers to specific Sunday May 1940 'Day of Prayer' as trapped 300,000 BEF starts to leave Dunkirk, but public is unaware. as per John Lukacs' Five Days in London (end Chap 3)

Pamlar1 said...

This is the first time I have read the entire poem and at first the first
reading I was unsure of it, but soon found that it delighted me with it's light
and darkness and especially the guilty satire.

Alejandro Cowes said...

I am not an expert on English poetry, but I think it is "Send white feathers to the cowards" not "Send white flowers to the cowards" ( verse 5, line 3) ........Alejandro Cowes, from Buenos Aires, Argentina

baron6630 said...

It's only taken me eight years to find and reply to this posting. But

When I was a child, and Betjeman was poet laureate, he was regarded
as a very conservative figure. Hardly justified. Oh, he certainly
used the structures of traditional verse and he certainly loved the
traditional structures of English architecture and landscape. All of
which seemed very old-fashioned then. Less so now. But, anyway,
reading this poem, it's clear that he saw through everything that
came to be regarded as the "proper" clothing of conservatism. "Kill
the Germans, not us", "save the good blacks not the bad ones, and
more especially save the whites", and God is only there when you need
him and don't have to go shopping. Either the middle classes who
loved Betjeman didn't read this poem, or they are very good at
laughing at themselves. Actually, I suspect the latter. But laughing
at yourself can be a VERY effective means of self-defence. It can
deflect justified criticism. I sense, in this poem, a barb of real
criticism, which survives all the laughter and makes it hollow.

I joined this group because of this poem, so, also, hi, and thanks.


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