(Poem #1050) Devonshire Street W.1
The heavy mahogany door with its wrought-iron screen Shuts. And the sound is rich, sympathetic, discreet. The sun still shines on this eighteenth-century scene With Edwardian faience adornment -- Devonshire Street. No hope. And the X-ray photographs under his arm Confirm the message. His wife stands timidly by. The opposite brick-built house looks lofty and calm Its chimneys steady against the mackerel sky. No hope. And the iron knob of this palisade So cold to the touch, is luckier now than he "Oh merciless, hurrying Londoners! Why was I made For the long and painful deathbed coming to me?" She puts her fingers in his, as, loving and silly At long-past Kensington dances she used to do "It's cheaper to take the tube to Piccadilly And then we can catch a nineteen or twenty-two".
Betjeman is often belittled as a poet of light verse: popular, and populist; charming and witty and undeniably easy to read, but also (dare I say it) a wee bit frothy, even frivolous: "the kind of poet that the Queen Mother would enjoy" . This is very unfair. It's not a crime to be popular, nor is it a crime to write fluently and well. Least of all is it a crime to hold true to the subjects dear to your heart, be they ever so specialized. Betjeman, in his charm, in his language, in his unabashed fondness for Victorian England, does all three. And yet... And yet I do wish, at times, that he had put his talent to (what I consider) better use. Today's poem is an excellent example of what might have been: it's sombre, yet not depressing; the verse is a rich amalgam of conversational lightness and underlying sorrow; the descriptions are delicate and concise, the characters surprisingly real. Above all, there is a profound sense of sympathy for the afflicted couple, a sympathy which finds expression in the essence of the poem, the stoic (and ever-so-English) message: Life goes on. thomas.  Sadly, I don't remember who perpetrated this particular statement. [Minstrels Links] John Betjeman: Poem #543, Executive Poem #613, In Westminster Abbey Poem #764, A Subaltern's Love Song