Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How poetry can save your life

John Betjeman, at one time Britains’s Poet Laureate and best-selling poet, produced umpteen lovable rhyming poems. I’m very fond of them myself. So lovable, they saved his life.

Betjeman was a press attache in the British embassy in Dublin in the early years of the WW2. He was also working very successfully for British Intelligence. He appears to have had a winning way him and befriended many who hitherto would not have had any truck with his likes. (He got on well with Paddy Kavanagh). He was, however, picked up by the IRA radar and they plotted to kill him.

Poetry saved him. Years later Diarmuid Brennan, the IRA army council's head of civilian intelligence, wrote to him saying, "I came to the conclusion that a man who could give such pleasure with his pen couldn't be much of a secret agent. I may well be wrong". And on this basis, the plot was abandoned.

Now, there is no doubt that the poetry suggests a sort of loveable old versifier with a very English take on life, ‘a spot of tennis’ type of thing. But maybe the IRA needed an expert in poetry analysis, because behind this outer veneer, the poems are very accomplished indeed.

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