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Last Updated: Monday, 28 August 2006, 10:38 GMT 11:38 UK
'Human poet' Betjeman remembered
John Heald, chairman of the John Betjeman Society, pays tribute to the much-loved British poet to mark the centenary of his birth on 28 August.

John Betjeman was an extraordinary figure who had a tremendous influence on English life.

John Betjeman
John Heald says Betjeman "was and is a national figure"
The reason why he is admired is he's a very human poet - he understands so much about the human condition.

He speaks the tongue of the ordinary man, and he does it brilliantly.

But I don't think he regarded people as ordinary - he saw every individual as unique.

His comic writing may have resulted in him being taken a little less seriously than some of his contemporaries.

And he could play the buffoon. In later life he became more famous for who he was than for what he did.

But there was also a melancholic side to him, and he often uses irony, comedy and wit for serious purposes.

He did know tragedies of various kinds and he was very aware we were all walking near the brink.

The world would be a very much poorer place if Betjeman was forgotten
John Heald
Nobody could read Betjeman better than Betjeman. Some poets aren't very good at reading their work, but with him the work and the voice are inextricably linked.

If I was starting from scratch I would begin with Summoned by Bells, the autobiographical poem which takes him from his birth to his early 20s and covers his years at Oxford.

I can think of no other poet who could generate the amount of interest Betjeman's centenary has. He was and is a national figure.

The world would be a very much poorer place if he was forgotten.

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