Betjeman is a crafts master. He is a master of rhythm and rhyme – sadly his poetry contains little else. How far do you agree?
Betjeman is a crafts master, rhythm and rhyme are his forte, but his strengths do not cease here. He uses rhyme and rhythm to strengthen his message, but his poetry also contains a creative collaboration of punctuation, imagery techniques and juxtaposition throughout his collections. The poetry may be simple, but this makes the message clear so a wide range of audiences has the ability to understand and appreciate his work.
Betjeman’s poetry contains a wide variety of poetic terms, which goes against the statement that his poetry “contains little else” other than rhythm and rhyme. For example in False Security, lines 2 and 3 read:
“Let go with a bang behind me our house front door
And, clutching a present for my dear little hostess tight,”
The above two lines are packed of effective poetic devices other than rhythm and rhyme. “Bang” is onomatopoeic, which fully engages the reader, as it makes them feel as though they can hear the door banging. “Bang behind” is alliteration, and this, again, engages the reader and makes the line more interesting. There is no punctuation at the end of the first line, this is called enjambment, and the enjambment shows the movement of the door banging behind the young boy. The caesura after “and” on the second line, highlights the next bit of speech, and emphasises what is about to be said. The use of the verb “clutching” makes it seem as though the present he is holding is very precious, and this is because without the present, he may not be admitted to the party. “Little hostess tight” suggests that the young boy has feelings of love for the girl who is hosting the party.
Also, in Original Sin on the Sussex Coast, Betjeman writes “now on this out of season afternoon”. This shows that the weather is not conventional for this particular season; this is known as pathetic fallacy and relates the weather to overall dull, nostalgic atmosphere of the poem. He also says “A schoolboy once again in shivering shorts”. Here he uses to sibilance to portray that he is scared. The words “shivering shorts” show how insignificant and small he feels compared to the bullies that are about to strike upon him, and conjure up an image of a small scared schoolboy in the audience’s minds. The single stanza layout of this poem show that it is one long continuous memory, as the text isn’t broken up, which makes the reader continue reading as each line flows to the next. The name “Original Sin on the Sussex Coast” is juxtaposed to itself, as the horror of sin is associated with the beauty of the Sussex Coast.
Betjeman is, indeed, a master of rhythm. In False Security he uses a regular meter on every line, with the exception of the last line which reads “I WONDER WHERE JULIA FOUND THAT STRANGE, RATHER COMMON LITTLE BOY?” the use of a higher syllable count in this line draws attention to it, which makes the audience empathise with the poor young boy. Also in Original Sin on the Sussex Coast, there is a constant meter of 10, and this reflects the fact that sin always constant and is always happening, even in the most beautiful of places such as the Sussex Coast. In Death in Leamington a regular meter is used, and this relates to the regular routine of the nurse who came to look after the old woman in her dying days, and the meter shows that the nurse hasn’t noticed and is carrying on with her regular routine, despite the tragedy that has happened, and this saddens the audience and makes them feel sympathy for the poor old woman. A constant meter of 8,6 was used throughout the poem On a Portrait of a Deaf Man that shows how constant death is, and how death will never stop. Also the meter in A Subaltern’s Love Song, is regular, which portrays love.
Rhyming, is one of many skills that Betjeman possesses, he is a genius with rhyming schemes. For example in False Security, there are rhyming couplets which strengthen the message of the poem, and as the young boy gets more excited about the party and the being with the hostess whom he has feelings for, the rhyme becomes stronger and three lines rhyme as opposed to two, and this helps the reader feel the excitement of the boy. Rhyme is used throughout the poem, this makes the poem seem very jaunty and slightly jolly, which lures the reader into a false sense of security, as the poem is very serious and has a serious underlying message within it. The rhyme is juxtaposed to the content of the poem. Another poem in which Betjeman uses this technique is On a Portrait of a Deaf Man. The poem is about how Betjeman never got to know his father as his father was deaf, and therefore has communication problems with him, and when his father died, he felt as though he didn’t know him as well as he perhaps should have. This poem has a constant rhyme scheme of ABCB, and this is juxtaposed to content, as the rhyming is almost jolly, and like false security, lures the reader into a false sense of security. Also the rhyming in A Subaltern’s Love Song helps portray a jovial tone, which reflects how the two people in the poem feel as they are in love.
Betjeman doesn’t solely rely on rhyme to make his poems effective. In Original Sin on the Sussex Coast, there is no rhyme scheme used, as the underlying message of the poem is very serious, and adding rhyme to the poem may have spoilt the seriousness, and made it jolly. Betjeman uses a variety of punctuation techniques, for example:
“A race for Willow Way and jump the hedge
Behind the Granville Bowling Club? Too late.”
Here he uses enjambment at the end of the first line to show the movement of him jumping over the hedge. Then he asks himself a question (caesura), which shows that he is unsure or nervous about what to do as bullies are chasing him. He continues to then say “too late.” And the full stop at the end of that line shows finality, and shows the reader that he knows that there is nothing he can do to change what’s about to happen to him. Also the short sentence creates tension, as no one knows what’s going to happen to the young boy next.
At first glance, Betjeman’s poetry may seem simple, but underneath everything, there are serious messages. Betjeman may seem to have surface simplicity, but he masters the literary devices with perfection. For example, Slough may seem cheery on the surface, however there is a serious issue of the urbanisation of Slough hidden beneath it. In False Security there is an underlying message about class and about how the young boy doesn’t think that he is of a high enough class to attend such a party. Also the quote from the hostess’s mother at the end of the poem also shows how the boy may be insecure of his class as she says “strange, rather common little boy”. Bullying is another underlying issue in Original Sin on the Sussex Coast. The surface simplicity of Betjeman’s work means that many people can understand and appreciate the messages of his work, as opposed to being extremely complicated with mass confusion.
In conclusion, I have proven that Betjeman is not only a master of rhythm and rhyme, but also a master of many more things such as literary devices, phonetics, structure and portraying hidden messages.