Quote from Dear Su Yen pp.10-11

03 May 2024 by Suyen Hu

I have been dreaming with Oxford for nearly three years since I discovered there is enough for me here to explore for my whole life in such a lively yet old city. I desire to know the story of each stone which I feel can show a different aspect of history. But I also have seen some poorly designed modern architecture intruding into this historic place, and I wonder how that can be; I often choose to close my eyes when I have to pass by those buildings which are unpleasant to me, and only to immerse my mind in the ancient air.

I was studying a book about John Betjeman and Oxford buildings for my first Master's dissertation when my tutor sent me a fragment of one of Betjeman's poems. For me it expresses the quiet mystery of Oxford and provided me with so much joy on feeling the poem with my own thoughts, although there were so many new words I had to discover.

Dear Su Yen
I'm so glad you like the book. John Betjeman had a deep respect and an affection for English buildings, which are often expressed in the way he writes. I send you here a small portion of a Betjeman poem because it describes just what you are doing, exploring Oxford in the book and in reality.

For many years Betjeman's poems were considered to be not very good. They often seem too easy, both to write and to read: the sort of simple rhyming lines which anyone might have produced. However, they are beginning to come back into favour, perhaps because he was an acute and honest observer of human life and its weaknesses, perhaps because we are now far enough from the times he writes about, the 1950s and 60s, to view his work more objectively. This is one of his better poems I think.

In Memory of Basil, Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, by John Betjeman (1906-1984)

…the long peal pours from the steeple
   Over this sunlit quad
in our University City
   And soaks in Headington stone.
Motionless stand the pinnacles.

Then there were people about.
   Each hour, like and Oxford archway,
Opened on long green lawns
   And distant unvisited buildings
And you my friend were explorer…