Purpose and Security

05.18.21 | Coffee Stained Notebook | by John Jones

Purpose and Security

    In perusing my database to re-read some of my favorite John Betjeman poems, one in particular stood out to me: "Variation on a Theme by Newbolt." It struck my attention because of a recent midweek talk delivered by William Taylor. 

    As I make my way through any book or article, it isn’t finished until markstack, paste, and tag. Read book. Mark quotes (with Rio flags). Stack on my deskWhen I get around to it (even several weeks)paste quotes into my database. Tag note to category. 

    In perusing my database to re-read some of my favorite John Betjeman poems, one in particular stood out to me: "Variation on a Theme by Newbolt." It struck my attention because of a recent midweek talk delivered by William Taylor. The sermon is called, God’s stones in His house of service from 1 Peter 2.4-8 (the living stones passage). It is about the purpose and security of the Christian life. William Taylor is Rector of St. Helen’s Bishopsgate and the sermon is worth listening to.  

    You should listen to it in its entirety, nevertheless, what came to mind as I was reading Betjeman’s poem was Taylor’s introduction. He opens by saying that he was given a tour of the Lloyd’s of London building in the financial district of London, literally just across Leadenhall Street from St. Helen’s. Taylor was given a tour of a former vice-chairman of Lloyds. The building is a fantastic Richard Rogers design and I would positively love a tour myself. After the tour, this former vice-chair noted to Taylor that, five years ago, everyone in the building noticed him and would stop to speak with him. Now, however, he can walk around the entire building all day and only one or two people will pay any attention to him at all 

    Our earthly success and acclaim are so fleeting. But the Christian life is not. Listen to William Taylor’s explanation from 1 Peter. Think about earthly success as you read John Betjeman, "Variation on a Theme by Newbolt," about the passing of a director of a nondescript Leadenhall Street company (I suspect it is Lloyd’s)At the very close of the poem it seems that Betjeman elevates our estimation of this powerful man by elevating the virtuous regard of his widow. Even the city that will “see him no more” seems to mourn his passing. Even still, the poem fashions in our mind a suited success-story who has placed his purpose and security in his earthly successes. The poet warns us. 

    This poem comes from The Collected Poems, published by John Murray Ltd. and Book Club Associates (London, 1975), 284-85. 

    The City will see him no more at important meetings 
    In Renaissance board rooms by Edwin Cooper designed;  
    In his numerous clubs the politely jocular greetings  
    Will be rather more solemn to-day with his death in mind.  

    Half mast from a first floor window, the Company’s bunting  
    Flops over Leadenhall Street in this wintry air  
    And his fellow directors, baulked of a good day’s hunting  
    Nod gloomily back to the gloomy commissionaire.  

    His death will be felt through the whole of the organization,  
    In every branch of its vast managerial tree,  
    His brother-in-law we suppose will attend the cremation,  
    A service will later be held in St. Katherine Cree.  

    But what of his guns?—he was always a generous giver.  
    (Oh yes, of course, we will each of us send a wreath),  
    His yacht? and his shoot? and his beautiful reach of river?  

    And all the clubs in his locker at Walton Heath?  
    I do not know, for my mind sees one thing only, 
    A luxurious bedroom looking on miles of fir  
    From a Surrey height where his widow sits silent and lonely  
    For the man whose love seemed wholly given to her. 

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