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Summoned by Bells

The Illustrated Summoned by Bells, Summoned by Bells

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: St Juliot Cornwall to Rabindranath Tagore Biography

an autobiographical poem in blank verse by John Betjeman, first published in 1960; The Illustrated Summoned by Bells, with paintings and drawings by the author's friend Sir Hugh Casson, appeared in 1990. The text is in nine parts occupying more than 100 pages, and its sales exceed those of any poem of comparable length in the twentieth century. Betjeman used blank verse for the work, his most extended piece of autobiographical writing, as a compromise between prose and poetry; the style he adopts is deliberately more prosaic than that of other poems he wrote in blank verse and proves highly appropriate to the rapid development of the narrative. A variety of rhymed verse forms are used at certain points throughout the poem for occasional effects of lyrical emphasis. In addition to the wealth of information imparted about Betjeman himself and his family, Summoned by Bells contains many passages of architectural interest, the subject emerging as a leitmotif after his interest in it is seen to intensify at Marlborough College. The topographical predilections evident elsewhere in his poetry are also apparent in the numerous treatments of places and landscapes, most notably north London, Cornwall, Wiltshire, and Oxford. The poem covers the period between infancy and the commencement of Betjeman's brief spell in the teaching profession following his ignominious departure from Oxford after failing in Divinity; it forms a valuable contribution to the social and cultural histories of the late Edwardian and Georgian eras, and alludes to numerous well-known figures with whom Betjeman had contact.

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