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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The magic world of faith and doubt, 22 Oct 2007
This review is from: Sweet Songs of Zion (Hardcover)
Betjeman couldn't decide if he was a religious man or not. From his student days onwards he was always a member of the Church of England; he was also active on various parish councils, but he was constantly assailed by his own rationalism. What bothered him most was the question of what might happen to him after he died: it was an ugly choice - annihilation or hell.

In this amazing book, composed of almost 30 radio talks that he gave towards the end of his life, Betjeman finally found a way to come terms with the Church - by exploring it through the medium that he felt closest to: poetry - or, more exactly, the religious poetry of the hymn.

How did hymns come to be written? Who wrote them? What do they mean for the Christian faith? Over the course of three years, Betjeman looked at 200 of the nation's favourite hymns, which he arranged into 28 groupings, to show how words - and the music that goes with them - reaches and answers a need in the human soul in a way that nothing else can.

Hymns were written - over four centuries - by individuals who not only had nothing in common but might have been sectarian enemies. And yet the hymns they left behind sit beautifully together in the Church's many hymnals - testimony to the fact that beyond our personal struggles and enmities, there is a beauty and a unity that will not be suppressed by human failings.

This, as Stephen Games shows in his stunning introduction, is what Betjeman discovered while working on these scripts and what helped him come to terms with faith at the very darkest period in his life.

"Sweet Songs of Zion" is a fabulous book - and one made up of material that, until its publication, was still unheard of among Betjeman lovers and scholars alike.

No one can understand Betjeman, or fully enjoy him, without reading it - and it forms a spectacular finale to Stephen Games's two previous collections of his prose work: "Trains and Buttered Toast" and "Tennis Whites and Teacakes".

This is a must-read - and the perfect gift, Christmas and otherwise, for years to come.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fabulous collection of interesting talks, 1 Jan 2009
By 
Mrs. J. S. Mcgrace "jomcgrace" (leeds,UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Sweet Songs of Zion: Selected Radio Talks (Paperback)
i bought this book as a present for my dad, a baptist pastor.

i skim-read it before giving it, and found it fascinating ;and as you would expect- very well 'written'.

my dad also got straight into it, and delighted to find some real gems- little known, but wonderful hymns by such famous hymn writers as isaac watts.

i'm going to have trouble getting it back- to complete my reading of it!!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SWAN SONG, 1 July 2010
By 
B. G. Strand "strandbg" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Sweet Songs of Zion (Hardcover)
This book is a compliation of John Betjeman's 'swan song' radio talk series.Concentrating upon a single topic,the hymn, he produces a 'sweet sound' in the reader's ear with his wide ranging review ,and adds another arrow to his multi-talented quiver.It aptly demonstrates why Betjeman thought the hymn was 'the nearest thing to English folk music ' and ably supports his theory that 'hymns are the poetry of the people'.Complete with an interesting introduction from the editor Stephen Games, which sets the context for the talks.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Traditional Choice, 13 May 2013
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This review is from: Sweet Songs of Zion (Hardcover)
A fine anthology of traditional hymnography. Betjeman at his best. Suitable for all who love sound hymns of the more traditonal and unsentimental variety.
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Sweet Songs of Zion: Selected Radio Talks
Sweet Songs of Zion: Selected Radio Talks by John Betjeman (Paperback - 26 Jun 2008)
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