Just now I was reading through the A Verse Autobiography, by John Betjeman “Summoned by Bells”, published when I was in Oxford in 1960. At that time I didn’t notice it though there was much debate about its literary quality. Now in a new edition and reissued now and available in India, this verse autobiography brought me back much of my Oxford days! Many of the scenes and sights bring back the Oxford atmosphere evocatively!
The George Restaurant, Sunday morning-High Mass at Pusey House, Sherry in Beaumont Street, introduction to country life, evening in the Cotswolds, dinner in Wadham with Maurice Bowra, irregular ode and tutorials…” All these scenes and sights became my own experience in my time. I lived for few weeks in Beaumont Street! I lived in country houses! I spent days in the Cotswolds! I myself had tea with Maurice Bowra…!
So, this chapter gave me endless hours of pleasure!
A chapter has a narration of dinner with Maurice Bowra! What Betjeman gives is a picture I myself had experienced and mentioned above. Such is the power of his evocative narration I feel like quoting here a few lines.
“Dinner with Maurice Bowra sharp at eight
High up in Wadham’s hospitable quad
Bright in the inner room; the brown and green
Of rows and rows of Greek and Latin texts;
The learning lightly worn; the grand contempt
For pedants, traitors and pretentiousness.
Within those rooms I met my friends for life
True values that were handed on a plate
In forceful nineteen fourteen army slang
As now, that Maurice Bowra’s company
Taught me far more than all my tutors did”
Of course this sort of poetry is what T.S. Eliot calls provincial and hence these types of poets never got to be noticed in the outside world. Only lately, I started to read the contemporary Tamil poets, mostly through the recently published poetry volumes, slim volumes as poetry publications usually are. There is no literary criticism worth mentioning, the literature on this topic is scarce.
I feel that in Tamil there is not this tradition of publishing contemporary poetry or poetry anthologies and followed by a spate of literary criticism as in UK as far as I know. It would be a good idea if we bring out every year that year’s best poetry selections.