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English Literature

John Betjeman: On a Portrait of a Deaf Man

Context

John Betjeman (1906-1984) was probably the most famous British poet of his time. This was probably also because of his broadcasting work for BBC radio and television. He even released several albums of poetry readings.

He went to Oxford University, leaving without a degree but with the friendship of several fellow poets like WH Auden and Louis MacNeice.

Betjeman was a lover and promoter of London, and was a huge supporter of the advances made by the Victorians. He campaigned and wrote about things like architecture and trains and founded the Victorian Society. He successfully campaigned against the demolition of St Pancras station. After a massive, multi-million pound facelift, St Pancras re-opened in 2007, complete with a statue of Betjeman.

He was also passionate about churches and the stereotypically English way of life, which he thought was fading in the 20th century. As a result, some of his usual themes were social class and the English countryside, as well as loneliness and death.

Unlike many other published poets, Betjeman managed to write for a living. He also worked as a film critic and for an architecture magazine. His first volume of poetry was published in 1931 and he wrote many more throughout his life. Betjeman even took the unusual step of writing an autobiography in verse, called Summoned by Bells. More than two million copies of his Collected Poems have been sold.

His popularity was confirmed when he became Poet Laureate (the Queen's poet) in 1972. He suffered from Parkinson's condition later in life and died in 1984 at his home in Cornwall. He was buried in the local churchyard.

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