I am What Iamb

The other night on iplayer I watched John Betjeman on trains in Metroland.  And what it was that struck me with great force, was the importance of the face that’s on the screen.  That Betjeman was almost in the background, the features of his face hard to discern, while in the foreground stood the subject-matter: the engines and the lines of Metroland.

To be quite fair, it was a little hazy – the journeys he was making needed maps just so that we could put into perspective where it all stood and where it was all going.  (Remember Lenny Henry’s ‘Distance from Dudley’?)  But atmosphere was key – the lines and stations; the roads and houses radiating from them; the England I grew up with, in a sense; half-built post-war, half-borrowed from Victoria.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00cyyqw/Metroland/

I P not R P

Now!  It took me a while to notice while watching this programme, a key fact about it – that much of Betjeman’s commentary was in – wait for it – iambic pentameter!!!  And yet I hadn’t noticed! just as you don’t notice the gentle rhythm of a train when you’re on it and clickety-clacking through the Home Counties.  It’s as though IP is the natural rhythm, not only of the English language, but of English trains and English railways and English streets and houses.  And by the way, if you’re not clear about what IP is, it’s what most of Shakespeare – and about half of English poetry – is written in.  To get a feel of it, just take five steps – heel, toe – and put the emphasis on the toe, like this: di-dah di-dah di-dah di-dah di-dah.  For example:

to be or not to be, that is the question

or…

is this a dagger that I see before me?

or…

the world is too much with us.  Late and soon

Of course, it’s not always rhythmical or the whole play would sound like doggerel – and sometimes extra syllables are squeezed in, like here:

O Romeo, Romeo!  Wherefore art thou Romeo?

– but the essential pattern is the same.  Iambic pentameter.

So now you know.

Not that Betjeman was one of the Shakespearian elite.  He was, I think, working-class or lower middle-class and rose to be Poet Laureate and an Establishment Figure perhaps because of his conservative political views.  I am not keen on B as a poet but it is important to acknowledge the contribution he made to our culture in bringing to our attention – in validating, in a poetic sense, the ordinary and suburban.

Still don’t get it?  OK here’s the first part of the post in verse:

The other night on iplayer I watched

John Betjeman on trains in Metroland

and what it was that struck me with great force

was the importance of the face that’s on the screen

that Betjeman was almost in the background

– I nearly wasn’t sure if it was him –

while in the foreground stood the subject-matter

the engines and the trains of Metroland.

Cool, eh?  And there’s more – but I’ll let you figure it out for yourself.

Kirk out

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2 Comments

Filed under culcha, poems, TV reviews

2 responses to “I am What Iamb

  1. Mmmmm… Like it. Hadn’t realised.

    Spock out

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