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Betjeman Centenary

Monday, 28th August 2006

Betjeman Centenary

Sir John Betjeman's centenary will be marked with a wreathlaying ceremony at his memorial in Poets' Corner on Monday.

A posy of flowers will be laid by Lady Wilson, wife of the former Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The poet's biographer Bevis Hillier will give an address.

Sir John was born on August 28th 1906 on the edge of Hampstead Heath. His love of architecture secured him a job as assistant editor of the Architectural Review but his publications on architecture ran alongside his books of poetry, which earned him a Queen's Medal for Poetry. Collected Poems, first published in 1958, now has sold over 2.25 million copies. Knighted in 1969, he succeeded Cecil Day-Lewis as Poet Laureate in 1972.

He had a lifelong love of the Church of England - and of Abbey and was a member of its Architectural Advisory Panel, forerunner to the Fabric Commission.. Though he was buried at the church of St Enodoc near his Cornish home at Trebetherick in May 1984, a memorial to him was unveiled in the Abbey's Poets' Corner in November 1996. One of his most famous church poems In Westminster Abbey gently satirises the British upper-classes at prayer during World War Two.

The poem begins:

Let me take this other glove off
     As the vox humana swells,
And the beauteous fields of Eden
     Bask beneath the Abbey bells.
Here, where England's statesmen lie,
Listen to a lady's cry.

It ends:

Now I feel a little better,
     What a treat to hear Thy word,
Where the bones of leading statesmen,
     Have so often been interr'd.
And now, dear Lord, I cannot wait
Because I have a luncheon date.

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You are surrounded by history at the Abbey, not like a museum where it’s just displayed, but here you are standing where history has happened.

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Gerlinde - Abbey Marshal

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