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The Cowper and Newton Museum
John Betjeman Centenary, 2006

William Cowper was one of Sir John's favourite poets, and it is easy to see why: both men were troubled by religious doubt, both cultivated an easy, intimate style in prose and verse, and both loved the English countryside.

In 'Winter at Home', collected in First and Last Loves (1952) Betjeman celebrates the special pleasures of the season: it is

… the one time when I feel I can indulge myself in reading what I like instead of what I ought to read…. Every winter I read The Task by William Cowper, and twice or thrice those wonderful books in it where he describes a Winter Evening, a Winter Morning and a Winter Walk at Noon. The frost blades of north Buckinghamshire, the snowed-over woodlands, the dog that gambolled in the snow, the bells and post horns, the cups of tea, melted, dead, silenced, evaporated for nearly two hundred years, come to life again. And if the next morning is nippy and white with frost, then Cowper's magic power of description gives an eternal look to the cold and sparkling scene so that even this duller landscape in which I live might be the gentle undulations round Cowper's Olney, Bucks, or it might be something earlier still, a frost-bound Dutch landscape by Breughel.

 What a heartfelt tribute from one poet to another, even to the echo - conscious or unconscious - of Cowper’s line about the sound of church bells, which 'just undulates upon the listening ear'.

In his centenary year let us in turn salute John Betjeman, on behalf of William Cowper, and may they both continue to give pleasure to all who love what they loved.

Tony Seward, Chair of Museum Trustees

For full details of John Betjeman and the events marking his centenary, see the website of the John Betjeman Society http://www.johnbetjeman.com


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