Thursday, 19 April 2012

Larkin on Betjeman

As part of their extensive web archive, The Guardian provide an online version of Philip Larkin's 1959 review of John Betjeman's Collected Poems. It's well worth a look and you can read it here.

I often feel that such articles reveal as much about the reviewer as his subject, and this is no exception. Larkin implicitly defends many of his own poetic values when highlighting Betjeman's virtues. I was especially drawn to his explanation of the way he feels many critics misuse the term "nostalgia" when dealing with Betjeman (and Larkin):

"the quality in his poetry loosely called nostalgia is really that never-sleeping alertness to note the patina of time on things past which is the hall-mark of the mature writer"

This is superbly put. Of course, it inevitably dodges the constant interplay in both Larkin's and Betjeman's work between their yearning for "things past" and their critical view of "things present". All in all, Larkin's review is a terrific piece of unashamedly partial and passionate writing. I invariably end up comparing his view of British poetry and society in 1959 with how he might judge where we are in 2012, but that's a different blog post altogether...

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