Cecil Day Lewis
& John Betjeman
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On 14 December 1967, Cecil
Day Lewis (1904-1972) received a letter from Harold Wilson, the
Prime Minister, wanting his 'consent' to be poet laureate
in Ordinary to Her Majesty. Before the Queen's official announcement
on 2 January 1968, 'it meant a lot of family giggling over
Christmas' (Lewis). By 1968, the post had no duties apart
from presiding over the committee that selected the winner of the
Queen's Gold Medal for poetry. Although content with the money
- £70 plus £27 'in lieu of a butt of sack'
- Lewis made it clear to anyone who listened that he would
have preferred the wine. On display is a reprint of The Buried Day,
Lewis's autobiography up to 1940.
Cecil Day Lewis, The Buried Day. London: Chatto & Windus, 1969.
Bra. PR 6007.A95 Z5 A32
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In his The Poets Laureate,
Kenneth Hopkins claimed that if Lewis had lived ten years longer
'he would have raised the Laureateship to a position in the
public consciousness which it had not held since Tennyson, and such
as before Tennyson it had hardly held at all.' When Leonard
Woolf received the completed draft of The Magnetic Mountain he exclaimed
it was 'the best long poem that I have read for many a long
day.' Overtures (1938) was a more sombre work, capturing the
Munich Mood and the impending war. Both items on display are first
Cecil Day Lewis, The Magnetic Mountain (London: L. & V. Woolf,
1933. Bra. PR 6007 A95 M3) and Overtures to Death and Other Poems
(London: Jonathan Cape, 1938. Bra. PR 6007 A95 09)
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Although some critics have called
John Betjeman (1906-1984) a light-weight versifier who kept to traditional
verse forms and rhyming schemes, his poetry is surprisingly serious,
is very accessible, and was certainly popular with the reading public.
When Geoffrey Grigson, who was politically unsympathetic to Betjeman,
read a draft of Old Lights he wrote: ' They are some of the
best he has done, I think, and I hope they go as well as they deserve
John Betjeman, Old Lights for New Chancels : Verses Topographical
and Amatory. London: John Murray, 1940.
Bra. PR 6003.E77 O4 1940
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On 10 October 1972, Sir John
Betjeman (he was knighted in 1969) received a telephone call from
Buckingham Palace that informed him of his appointment as poet laureate.
Besieged by the media, he told them: 'I don't'
think I am any good and if I thought I was any good I wouldn't
be any good. I don't watch much television, except for Coronation
Street and Alf Garnett who is outrageous but I am going to watch
myself tonight on television.' Betjeman was also a film critic,
an editor of the Shell Guides, and an active conservationist. This
volume is edited by his daughter, Candida Lycett Green.
John Betjeman Letters. Edited by Candida Lycett Green. London: Methuen,
Cen. PR 6003 E77 Z5 A4 1994