Faith and Doubt of John Betjeman: An Anthology of Betjeman’s Religious Verse
by John Betjeman; edited by Kevin J. Gardner
(Continuum, 2005, 224 pages)
John Betjeman was appointed the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom in 1972. Betjeman was a practicing Anglican, and much of his poetry deals with his faith and his struggle to retain it. This anthology gathers together poems which reflect on the themes of God, death, belief, and national heritage. Betjeman’s faith is alternatively robust and wavering, and these struggles are consistently related to the Church of England and its place within English society. While Betjeman has much to say about the personal elements of religious belief, he is most concerned with the way that the faith functions within the broader society and the role that it plays in national identity.
I got interested in Betjeman after reading some of Philip Larkin’s essays and rereading his poetry. Larkin and Betjeman were contemporaries, and while Larkin had little time for most modern poets, he always maintained an affection for Betjeman. Both Betjeman’s and Larkin’s poetry is accessible when compared to most modern poets. Many of the poems in this volume are comical and written as light verse. This helps to make the collection accessible, as do the helpful introductions to each section by the editor Kevin J. Gardner. This is a great read for poetry lovers and anglophiles.