A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Poem of the Day: John Betjeman

The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel 

He sipped at a weak hock and seltzer
     As he gazed at the London skies
Through the Nottingham lace of the curtains
     Or was it his bees-winged eyes?

To the right and before him Pont Street
     Did tower in her new built red,
As hard as the morning gaslight
     That shone on his unmade bed,

"I want some more hock in my seltzer,
     And Robbie, please give me your hand --
Is this the end or beginning?
     How can I understand?

"So you've brought me the latest Yellow Book:
     And Buchan has got in it now:
Approval of what is approved of
     Is as false as a well-kept vow.

"More hock, Robbie -- where is the seltzer?
     Dear boy, pull again at the bell!
They are all little better than cretins,
     Though this is the Cadogan Hotel.

"One astrakhan coat is at Willis's --
     Another one's at the Savoy:
Do fetch my morocco portmanteau,
     And bring them on later, dear boy."

A thump, and a murmur of voices --
     ("Oh why must they make such a din?")
As the door of the bedroom swung open

"Mr Woilde, we 'ave come for tew take yew 
     Where felons and criminals dwell:
We must ask yew tew leave with us quoietly
     For this is the Cadogan Hotel."

He rose, and he put down The Yellow Book.
     He staggered -- and, terrible-eyed,
He brushed past the palms on the staircase
     And was helped to a hansom outside.
--John Betjeman

I like to imagine the encounter of Oscar Wilde, the consummate aesthete, and John Betjeman, the laureate of British nostalgia, in heaven. Betjeman treats the great injustice of Wilde's arrest with slyly sympathetic humor, which may, after all, be the way Wilde would like to have seen it treated.

1 comment:

Peter Edwards said...

Approval of what is approved of
Is as false as a well-kept vow.

I think this wildean Betjemanian quote is one of the most accute and telling of lines. It is saying that those critics that spend their time praising the approved of under the guise of the new ( such as the almost twenty years of praise in the art press for saatchi financed artworks) is neither brave or radical.