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How is the fear of dying portrayed in Betjeman’s poems?

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Introduction

Iain Lill How is the fear of dying portrayed in Betjeman's poems? Betjeman is not afraid of death, but is intrigued by the situations in which it occurs, and also what may happen afterwards. He finds the idea of death sad, but for the people left behind, not the person who is dying, or has died. "Devonshire Street" is about a man's feelings, and the attitude of his wife, having discovered he has only a short time to live. The first stanza describes the setting for the poem, a rich affluent area of London, where a doctor practices. The "heavy mahogany" and "wrought-iron screen" indicate wealth, but this is ironic because all the wealth in the world will not be able to help this man with the terminal illness. The area is pleasant and scenic, a contrast to the news the man has been given. The second stanza shows this bleakness in the first two words; "no hope", the view may be pessimistic, but the "X-Ray photographs" show the undeniable facts . ...read more.

Middle

"Before the Anaesthetic" is the worries of someone about to go for an operation, and frightened of what will happen if they don't wake up. Their fear centres around the bells they hear from a nearby church, reminding them that they have not really been close to God, and this scares them. The poet describes the landscape around the hospital he is in, which he knows well, but never looked at in the same way. He is questioning what happens at death, is it "extinction", meaning no afterlife, or does God judge you, and send you to an appropriate place. The bells seem to echo the poet's thoughts, and question his faith as he admits "I never knew God at all" . This scares the poet, and he realises that perhaps he doesn't deserve a reward at all, and without God he will have to make what he sees as "his journey" alone. He believes that death would be much easier to take if he had some comforting presence he had faith in. ...read more.

Conclusion

This woman has such faith, and such self assurance in the future for her she is not frightened by anything now. It does not matter whether she does just die and that is the end, or whether there is an afterlife, because she has either eventuality covered. She is confident in her life that God will be kind to her, and if there is no afterlife, it doesn't matter, you won't know, and at least you die happily. These poems show the different ways that people see death, and their different reactions to it, comparing those with faith to those without, and the reactions from people to death. Other poems touch on the subject of the fear of coming too close to death, and what follows, such as "Chelsea" describing the city in terms of hell and the way this effects the people there. Betjeman's own fear about death is that history will be lost and the characteristics of the generation will die too. ...read more.

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