Friday, December 16, 2016


A Hike on the Downs

John Betjeman (1906-1984), "A Hike on the Downs," Collected Poems (London: John Murray, 1988), p. 30:
"Yes, rub some soap upon your feet!
    We'll hike round Winchester for weeks—
Like ancient Britons—just we two—
    Or more perhaps like ancient Greeks.

"You take your pipe—that will impress
    Your strength on anyone who passes;
I'll take my Plautus (non purgatus)
    And both my pairs of horn-rimmed glasses.

"I've got my first, and now I know
    What life is and what life contains—
For, being just a first year man
You don't meet all the first-class brains.

"Objectively, our Common Room
    Is like a small Athenian State—
Except for Lewis: he's all right
    But do you think he's quite first rate?

Hampshire mentality is low,
    And that is why they stare at us.
Yes, here's the earthwork—but it's dark;
    We may as well return by bus."
John Dougill, Oxford in English Literature (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998), p. 109:
The differing sensibilities among the all-male community could lead to friction no less than affection, as is illustrated by the strained relationship which developed between C.S. Lewis and one of his pupils at Magdalen, John Betjeman. The solid-minded Lewis was irked by his student's giggling manner and affectations, and his distaste was exacerbated by Betjeman's preference for extra-curricular activities at the expense of his studies. For his part, the young aesthete disliked Lewis's tastes both in literature and lifestyle, for he did not share his tutor's love of myth and the medieval, and he was upset by the austere furnishings of his rooms ('arid' he calls them in Summoned by Bells [1960]). Even humour separated the two men, and Betjeman complained peevishly that his tutor had forever ruined Coleridge's 'Kubla Khan' by wondering whether the 'pants' in the line, 'As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing', were made of wool or fur. When Betjeman left (without a degree) and applied for a teaching post, Lewis denied him a favourable testimonial, which led the poet to harbour a lifelong grudge. In his poetry collection Continual Dew (1937), he thanked Lewis for a footnote on page 256, though the book contained no such page...
See also Judith Priestman, "The dilettante and the dons," Oxford Today 18.3 (Trinity 2006) 20-23.

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