The Advent wind begins to stir
With sea-like sounds in our Scotch fir,
It’s dark at breakfast, dark at tea,
And in between we only see
Clouds hurrying across the sky
And rain-wet roads the wind blows dry
And branches bending to the gale
Against great skies all silver pale
The world seems travelling into space,
And travelling at a faster pace
Than in the leisured summer weather
When we and it sit out together,
For now we feel the world spin round
On some momentous journey bound –
Journey to what? to whom? to where?
The Advent bells call out ‘Prepare,
Your world is journeying to the birth
Of God made Man for us on earth.’
And how, in fact, do we prepare
The great day that waits us there –
For the twenty-fifth day of December,
The birth of Christ? For some it means
An interchange of hunting scenes
On coloured cards, And I remember
Last year I sent out twenty yards,
Laid end to end, of Christmas cards
To people that I scarcely know –
They’d sent a card to me, and so
I had to send one back. Oh dear!
Is this a form of Christmas cheer?
Or is it, which is less surprising,
My pride gone in for advertising?
The only cards that really count
Are that extremely small amount
From real friends who keep in touch
And are not rich but love us much
Some ways indeed are very odd
By which we hail the birth of God.
We raise the price of things in shops,
We give plain boxes fancy tops
And lines which traders cannot sell
Thus parcell’d go extremely well
We dole out bribes we call a present
To those to whom we must be pleasant
For business reasons. Our defence is
These bribes are charged against expenses
And bring relief in Income Tax
Enough of these unworthy cracks!
‘The time draws near the birth of Christ’.
A present that cannot be priced
Given two thousand years ago
Yet if God had not given so
He still would be a distant stranger
And not the Baby in the manger.
John Betjeman (1906-1984)
An English poet, writer and broadcaster and a founding member of the Victorian Society being a passionate defender of Victorian architecture. Initially his career was as a journalist but he became one of the most popular British Poets Laureates to date and a much-loved figure on British television. He was born Betjemann, which was changed to the less Germanic Betjeman during the First World War. His early schooling was at Byron House and Highgate School in North London, where he was taught by the poet T S Eliot. He attended Magdalen College, Oxford, entering the newly created School of English Language and Literature. It was his teddy Archibald Ormsby-Gore which provided inspiration for his Oxford contemporary Evelyn Waugh to include the bear Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited. Much of this period of his life is recorded in his blank verse autobiography, Summoned by Bells (1960), later made into a television film. Betjeman left Oxford without a degree but he had made the acquaintance of people who would influence his work, including Louis MacNeice and W. H. Auden. By 1948 Betjeman had published more than a dozen books. Sales of his Collected Poems in 1958 reached 100,000 and the popularity of the book prompted Ken Russell to make the film, John Betjeman: A Poet in London (1959). He also wrote guidebooks and works on architecture during the 1960s and 1970s and started broadcasting. Betjeman was also closely associated with the culture and spirit of Metro-land, as outer reaches of the London Metropolitan Railway Line were known before the war and in 1973 he made a widely acclaimed television documentary for the BBC called Metro-land, directed by Edward Mirzoeff. He is considered instrumental in helping to save the famous façade of St Pancras railway station, London and was commemorated when it re-opened as an international and domestic terminus in 2007. On the re-opening St Pancras, a statue of Betjeman was commissioned, with artist Martin Jennings selected from a shortlist. The finished work includes a series of slate roundels depicting selections of Betjeman’s writings.
Brueghel the Elder, Pieter (c1525-1569)
A Flemish Renaissance painter and printmaker, possibly born at Bruegel near the Dutch town of Breda, known for his landscapes and peasant scenes. He was the father of Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Elder and is the best known of the Brueghel dynasty of painters, who from 1559 dropped the ‘h’ from his name, signing his paintings as Bruegel. He spent some time in France and Italy, and in 1551 he was accepted as a master in the painter’s guild in Antwerp eventually setting in Brussels. He was nicknamed ‘Peasant Bruegel’ or ‘Bruegel the Peasant’ for allegedly dressing like a peasant and mingle with the crowds at celebrations to help him to get authentic details for his genre paintings. He died in Brussels on 9 September 1569 and is buried in the Kapellekerk