Commentary on John Betjeman's in Westminster Abbey

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  • Topic: John Betjeman, Cornwall, God
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  • Published : January 4, 2011
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In Westminster Abbey
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.

Gracious Lord, oh bomb the Germans.
    Spare their women for Thy Sake, And if that is not too easy
   We will pardon Thy Mistake.
But, gracious Lord, whate'er shall be, Don't let anyone bomb me.

Keep our Empire undismembered
    Guide our Forces by Thy Hand,
Gallant blacks from far Jamaica,
    Honduras and Togoland;
Protect them Lord in all their fights, And, even more, protect the whites.

Think of what our Nation stands for,
    Books from Boots and country lanes, Free speech, free passes, class distinction,     Democracy and proper drains.
Lord, put beneath Thy special care
One-eighty-nine Cadogan Square.

Although dear Lord I am a sinner,
    I have done no major crime;
Now I'll come to Evening Service
    Whensoever I have the time.
So, Lord, reserve for me a crown.
And do not let my shares go down.

I will labour for Thy Kingdom,
    Help our lads to win the war,
Send white feathers to the cowards
    Join the Women's Army Corps,
Then wash the Steps around Thy Throne In the Eternal Safety Zone.

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.

by John Betjeman

4.00 pm
Poet’s Intentions, Date, Gist and Tone
In Westminster Abbey by Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984) is a bitingly satirical poem, set in the Second World War (1939-45) as we can see from:

Gracious Lord, oh bomb the Germans.

It is about the attitudes of those who believe themselves to be upstanding members of the Church of England, yet have far from Christian instincts. The “lady” promises God she will:

Send white feathers to the cowards

and petitions Him to show favouritism to “the whites” fully expecting the approval of the Almighty. The intention of the poet is to ridicule attitudes that he finds disgraceful, in an exuberant and entertaining way, so that we are not taught a worthy sermon but rather enjoy a rather boisterous joke at the expense of the narrator. Geoffrey Chaucer uses the same method. Betjeman would hope that readers, recognising the irony, would then be alert to any such attitudes in themselves and others and see these attitudes more clearly as hypocritical.

Narrative Voice
The persona Betjeman adopts is a comfortably off, complacent, middle-aged woman who attends services in Westminster Abbey “Whensoever” she has “the time”. It is most likely that the “lady” is a universal type rather than a real person. The first stanza introduces the character as a fussy woman who puts herself first:

Let me take this other glove off

The bouncy, trochaic rhythm (unstressed stressed) immediately gives us an indication of her style of speech as rather...
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