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Summoned by Bells

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  92 Ratings  ·  17 Reviews
From the leafy streets of Edwardian Hampstead to the halls of Oxford, this is the stirring early life of John Betjeman told in his own lively blank verse. Betjeman describes in lush detail his formative years: the sounds and smells of a middle-class childhood spent in Cornwall; his discovery of literature and poetry; his turning away from the life of trade set before him. ...more
Paperback, 128 pages
Published December 1st 1989 by John Murray (first published December 1976)
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Listened to this in the car and had Betjeman's own fruity tones sounding forth. Stopped at traffic lights and in jams, I received one or two funny looks until I realized I still had it blaring out so as to be heard over the 'roar'...if that is not butching it up too much... of my smart car's engine forgetting that, now stationery, the engine was quietly ticking over and I had the deliberately laid back Poet Laureate screaming out like some mad harridan. Innocent bystanders, ears bleeding from ...more
Sep 20, 2013 Sitatunga rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biog, poetry
With apologies to Sir John:

From luxury of breakfast
Taken in my room
And sound of birdsong interrupted
Only by the strains of Bach...
I wandered from my eyrie
Catching the early morning sun
Upon that early stubble
Rustle of autumn leaves upon the path
That led between the trees to school
And strolling with patrician ease
Into the Upper Quad
Feet crunching gravel
To Medieval History, with Ted
(Jesus) Master of Sankey's
Whose favours I'd preferred to those of Robin,
(Gonville and Caius), his smile
Always a touch
Jan 08, 2014 Laura rated it liked it
Recommended to Laura by: Bettie
From BBC Radio 4 Extra:
The late poet laureate's 'life in verse', from nursery to university. Read by the author. Recorded in 1960.
Sep 20, 2011 Jen rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry
I find poetry books in odd places (almost all "pre-owned") and I have no recollection where I found this book, first published in 1960, by British poet John Betjeman. It's an autobiographical book of poetry written in blank verse covering the poet's formative years. I couldn't help thinking he just decided to pull a Wordsworth.

The result for me is mixed. Sometimes his blank verse sings, especially when he's detailing things that fascinated him as a young person: the inner workings of the manufa
Marcus Hobson
Published in 1960, this collection of Betjeman's verse covers his memories of early years. Of childhood in London, holidays in Cornwall, schooldays at Marlborough College and University at Oxford.
I like to places and the time that the verses invoke. Memories of an Edwardian childhood in North London, right through to Oxford in the late 1920s, where Betjeman famously did not see eye to eye with one of his tutors, C S Lewis. Some people didn't like his verse, thought it too humorous and light-hear
Liam Guilar
Feb 05, 2013 Liam Guilar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Betjeman himself said of this he'd gone "as near prose as he dare". If you can get beyond the thee and thy and the frequent apostrophising of roads, beaches, churches and childhood friends, it evokes a vanished world of comfortable privilege very effectively.

No matter how much i reread it, it's always enjoyable. Betjeman knew what he was doing, as with the collected poems he did what he did well and stuck with it. The narrating voice has a wry distance on the story, which allows for shades of v
Aug 09, 2015 Julie rated it really liked it
John Betjeman tells the story of his early life in 115 pages of blank verse, interspersed with short poems in more formal forms. I've been meaning to read this for years, and have really enjoyed sinking into it over a beautiful summer weekend. Betjeman is so good on the physical sensations of childhood: the safe warmth of the nursery, the sights and sounds of seaside holidays, the privations of public school life, but he is also very perceptive about family tensions. He vividly examines the ...more
Jan 22, 2015 ^ rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All who love England and her ways.
This is a very beautiful edition of this now classic title; to read and to holdfast. Cover and contents warmly remind of the beautiful and happy things in life. I like Betjeman’s clear and deliberate decision to remember and record in blank verse predominantly what he found good in his life, for what there was to be thankful for. In such a light, even academic failure at Oxford doesn’t seem quite as damaging as it might have so read in prose. Or am I guilty of taking that view in knowledge of ...more
I had recently discovered a selection of Betejeman's verse and was reminded that I had once planned to read his verse autobiography. 'Summoned by Bells' was, for me, a delight. Betjeman is a poet of great technical skill, not unlike Larkin or Thomas in his inventive explorations of poetic form, however, he is also less profound than those two champions. In Betjeman's world, cheerfulness is always breaking in and I was grateful to spend a few hours in the company of a learned and sociable ...more
Andrew Darling
Jan 19, 2013 Andrew Darling rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poets
Just re-read this, in the edition illustrated by Hugh Casson. What a fine thing it is, and the illustrations are perfect. This is JB on the train journey from Waterloo to Padstow:

The small fields waiting, every blackthorn hedge
straining inland before the south west gale.
The emptying train, wind in the ventilators,
puffs out of Egloskerry to Tresmeer
through minty meadows, under bearded trees
and hills upon whose sides the clinging farms
hold Bible Christians.

Graham Salisbury
Bicycles with Sturmey Archer gears, Euthymol toothpaste, the stations of the London Underground, the Perpendicular architecture of Betjeman's beloved Church of England and outings to Cornwall on the London and South Western Railway are all woven into an autobiographical narrative that encompasses unpleasant nursemaids, early attempts at poetry, bullying at school, the sights and smells of second-hand bookshops and Sunday Evensong ... and the list goes on and on.
Brian Robbins
Sep 14, 2011 Brian Robbins rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
Not a great fan of Betjamin, although he is quite endearing at times, he's also very mannered and glib.

There's a story about him arriving in slippers to a tutorial with C S Lewis. He writes poetry that equates to carpet slippers - very comfy, but don't take you very far.
Dec 28, 2015 Lucas rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry
I enjoyed the early stages, and I found his self perception to be particularly interesting - but as it wore on, and with the constant refrain of how hard put-upon are aesthetes, I found it hard to prevent myself flicking on a few pages to hurry the experience to its conclusion.
Feb 23, 2010 Jo rated it it was ok
Betjeman writes his poems with a fantastic sense of humour and observation. His love of England shines through his poems.
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