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Jenny’s Story: Alexander Gray’s ‘Scotland’ Monday, 25 January 2010

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How can I nominate just one favourite poem?  It depends on my mood.  Norman MacCaig, Robert Burns (especially Tam O’Shanter for a fine narrative poem), Iain Crichton Smith, John Betjeman, even a 4-liner I wrote for my children about warthogs, might all feature.  And where do I keep them?  Some in my head, some in my heart, some in my book shelves, some on my e-book reader.

If I can’t even have two, then I’ll discard Hugh MacDiarmid’s, “… little white rose of Scotland/That smells sharp and sweet – and breaks the heart.”. I’ll plump, not for the more commonly quoted fourth stanza, “This is my country,/The land that begat me. . .”, but for the evocative first verse of Alexander Gray’s ‘Scotland’, that always reminded me of home in the equally unforgiving parched landscape around me during my years in Africa:

Here in the Uplands

The soil is ungrateful;

The fields, red with sorrel,

Are stony and bare.

A few trees, wind-twisted –

Or are they but bushes? –

Stand stubbornly guarding

A home here and there.

Jenny Dawe is the Leader of the City of Edinburgh Council.

BIOGRAPHY – JOHN BETJEMAN Wednesday, 6 January 2010

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John Betjeman was born in north London in 1906. He attended Oxford University, but was sent down for failing his exams. He found work as a freelance journalist and broadcaster and published wry, comic poetry on the side.

Betjeman’s poetry soon developed a loyal following and his Collected Poems, published in 1958, became a bestseller. Betjeman was appointed England’s Poet Laureate in 1972 and his popularity grew even more. He died in 1984 at his house in Cornwall.

Richard’s stories Tuesday, 22 December 2009

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I like carrying poems by different poets in my head for different moods, including (to simplify greatly): Donne for sex; Tennyson for beautiful lines and melancholy; Housman for more melancholy; Auden for thought; Burns for humour and humanity; T S Eliot for elegant precision; Wilfred Owen for empathy; Betjeman for the sense of belonging to a place; Kipling for daring to be different; Wendy Cope for her barbs of satire… That’s probably enough to be going on with 🙂