Surprised as Betjeman

Since the beginning of the pandemic. My wife and I have been watching Malcolm Guite’s YouTube Channel in which he offers what he calls “Spells in the Library.” These “spells” are the incantations of poetry and words found in the collections of books in his library. We find these weekly installments enchanting.

Earlier this week he posted a piece on John Betjeman. I have posted it below. It’s delightful.

Now, as I was beginning to watch this I was caught by his opening introduction. Obviously he is speaking extemporary, yet I found his words remarkably poetic. Poets can do this sometimes.

I believe it was Ruth Pitter who took words which C.S. Lewis penned or spoke and turned them into a poem. She said, if I remember this correctly, that she had to do little or no altering of the words to make the poem. Lewis had been so steeped in verse, that poetry was the tea which was brewed through his words. I think Dr. Guite is of that same kind.

At any rate, I took his words and made a poem. The first half or so are the words (almost verbatim) by which he introduces his Spell in the Library on Betjeman. It seemed I couldn’t stop thinking about it until I wrote something down.

At any rate, if any of this is worthy, it is to the credit of Dr Guite. If any of it unworthy, the fault is mine.

You may listen to me read the poem via the player below.

“Chaos has come again,” as Othello says.
 I’ve got this Betjeman, (Don’t you see?)
 Where it’s perched precariously,
 Where it really shouldn’t be;
 This book, Betjeman’s Britain,
 Because I took it out of the shelf,
 And can’t actually…
 I can’t remember…
 I can’t find the gap for it myself.
 So you can see, 
 All the other books 
 That are on their sides,
 Books that, 
 They have a home to go to,
 But I can’t…
 They can’t
 Find their way home
 At the moment.

 We all, like volumes
 Lie on our sides 
 Where we shouldn’t be.
 We cannot find
 The gap where we fit—
 Where we slide
 In perfectly
 That place
 Snug up against another’s side—
 Cozy, upright, ready to be read,
 Where we sit.
 And we wait for the Reader
 Who gives life to the dead
 Who has gone before us 
 Who has made for us the best
 Place where we might abide and rest.
 
 But chaos has come again.
 We can’t…I can’t…they can’t 
 Find their way home 
 Though they have a home to go to.
 Here we sit or lie;
 Here we wait until we do
 Find our way back and into
 That gap, the place our Reader choose.
 
 One day, in a moment,
 He will take us up and read,
 And by His voice blow the leaves
 Of these open pages, and with life breathe
 And speak us with words into being.
 We shall rise. We shall find our place
 Straight-spined, standing tall, awash
 In the grace of the Spoken Word
 Surprised as Betjeman
 Transfigured.

5 thoughts on “Surprised as Betjeman

  1. Really enjoyed this and liked the way you turned my disconnected ramblings into a poem, and indeed the poem that has a real turn and lift at the end, rather like the poem which was the subject of my video!

    Liked by 1 person

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