It’s difficult to imagine someone as venerable as poet John Betjeman ever having been a young buck about town, but he was once, and it was in that mode that he glimpsed the living ghost of the 1890s. Arthur Symons, who arguably shaped that fabled decade’s literature more than any single figure, is captured here in the 1930s, in Betjeman’s poem with the auto-explanatory title “On seeing an Old Poet in the Café Royal”. The poignant confusion of the elder poet is evidently borne not just of age but the mental turmoil which engulfed the second half of his life. Symons died on this day in 1945.
I saw him in the Café Royal
Very old and very grand.
Modernistic shone the lamplight
There in London’s fairyland.
“Devilled chicken. Devilled whitebait.
Devil if I understand.