Sunday, October 09, 2005

John Betjeman - poet of the suburbs

The best way to experience the suburbs of England is from as great a distance as possible. I can well imagine reading and enjoying the poetry of John Betjeman from the International Space Station, before or after planetary destruction.

Betjeman's England is not the leafy vision I've encountered only in the songs of Nick Drake and on quasi-military family trips into "the country." His England is the same one I grew up in, of tiny gardens on the main road, through the cul-de-sacs of 80s housing developments, to the villages that have slowly been sucked into the orbit of a growing town, only to lose their gentle looks and quiet temperament to the invading hordes of speed bumps, plastic telephone boxes, mini-roundabouts, and drunken teenagers.


And those "rockeried roundabouts", how I miss them, as English as fish and chips and rain. Help! I'm reeling from the evocation... here's a great poem...

Inexpensive Progress

Encase your legs in nylons,
Bestride your hills with pylons
O age without a soul;
Away with gentle willows
And all the elmy billows
That through your valleys roll.

Let's say goodbye to hedges
And roads with grassy edges
And winding country lanes;
Let all things travel faster
Where motor car is master
Till only Speed remains.

Destroy the ancient inn-signs
But strew the roads with tin signs
'Keep Left,' 'M4,' 'Keep Out!'
Command, instruction, warning,
Repetitive adorning
The rockeried roundabout;

For every raw obscenity
Must have its small 'amenity,'
Its patch of shaven green,
And hoardings look a wonder
In banks of floribunda
With floodlights in between.

Leave no old village standing
Which could provide a landing
For aeroplanes to roar,
But spare such cheap defacements
As huts with shattered casements
Unlived-in since the war.

Let no provincial High Street
Which might be your or my street
Look as it used to do,
But let the chain stores place here
Their miles of black glass facia
And traffic thunder through.

And if there is some scenery,
Some unpretentious greenery,
Surviving anywhere,
It does not need protecting
For soon we'll be erecting
A Power Station there.

When all our roads are lighted
By concrete monsters sited
Like gallows overhead,
Bathed in the yellow vomit
Each monster belches from it,
We'll know that we are dead.

- John Betjeman

1 Comments:

Blogger L said...

"from a distance" is the best way to experience ANY suburb, especially if they're new developments filled with raving Baptists (like here)

9:05 PM  

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