British twentieth century

This Be the Verse

BY PHILIP LARKIN

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

Philip Larkin, “This Be the Verse” from Collected Poems. Used by permission of The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Phillip Larkin.

Source: Collected Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2001)

How expressive is this? Like Owen, this one just says it all so wonderfully. For some of us anyway.

Slough

BY JOHN BETJEMAN

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn’t fit for humans now,
There isn’t grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!
Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air -conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
Tinned minds, tinned breath.

Mess up the mess they call a town-
A house for ninety-seven down
And once a week a half a crown
For twenty years.

And get that man with double chin
Who’ll always cheat and always win,
Who washes his repulsive skin
In women’s tears:

And smash his desk of polished oak
And smash his hands so used to stroke
And stop his boring dirty joke
And make him yell.

But spare the bald young clerks who add
The profits of the stinking cad;
It’s not their fault that they are mad,
They’ve tasted Hell.

It’s not their fault they do not know
The birdsong from the radio,
It’s not their fault they often go
To Maidenhead

And talk of sport and makes of cars
In various bogus-Tudor bars
And daren’t look up and see the stars
But belch instead.

In labour-saving homes, with care
Their wives frizz out peroxide hair
And dry it in synthetic air
And paint their nails.

Come, friendly bombs and fall on Slough
To get it ready for the plough.
The cabbages are coming now;
The earth exhales.

I wasn’t fond of Betjeman and his ghastly rhythmic rhyming but I did quite like this one.

Sir John Betjeman was Poet Laureate from 1972 until his death in 1984.

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8 comments on “British twentieth century

    • Thanks. I actually didn’t like Betjeman when we studied him, partly for the ghastly rhyming and rhythm. With old age comes appreciation. Larkin interestingly, has virtually the same rhythm, but there is something so gritty about that poem that is unescapable. And true.

      I did them both, plus Owen and Ted Hughes for English A level, which is why Owen gets a bit more publicity, probably my fave. Glad you enjoyed the read. They are both very strong poems, I feel.

      Like

  1. I like Larkin’s, This Be The Verse
    Have read it before
    And liked it then,
    Such a shame
    Can’t say the same
    For slough-ty Plough-ty Betjemen :)

    Like

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