A fine collection of favourite Betjeman poems, showing both the poetic heights and the trite, versifying depths of which he was capable (`Longfellow's Visit to Venice' is a grim example of the latter). The collection covers a remarkable range of themes - here you'll find Betjeman on faith, sin and guilt/regret (`Late-flowering lust', `Sun and fun', `Remorse'); on the fear of death (`Senex'); and on death made banal (`Death in Leamington'). Poems on architecture abound, too, as well as on the changing landscapes, both literal and social, of twentieth century life, with its whimsical little conventions (`Hunter Trials'), loneliness (`Business Girls') and childhood fears ('Original Sin on the Sussex Coast'). And we see (too much of ?) Betjeman's predilection for buxom women (`A subaltern's love-song', `The Olympic girl').
Perhaps because it's such a wide-ranging collection, we see the faults, too: the irritating changes of tone, the refusal to remain serious when he has created moments of high solemnity, as in the final lines of `In Westminster Abbey': `And now, dear Lord, I cannot wait/Because I have a luncheon date'. Betjeman is at his best when giving full and unfettered rein to his spirituality and his insecurities; or when he fuses together in one poem his different passions, as in `Sunday Morning, King's Cambridge', with its happy marriage of architectural detail, finely observed, and the sense of the worship of the eternal captured in a moment. Highly recommended for those wanting to explore the extraordinary range of Betjeman's poetry, and glimpse something of the complex man behind them.