‘An Edwardian Sunday, Broomhill, Sheffield’ by John Betjeman is a complex, multilayered poem that looks at the features of one city. The poet takes a clear, honest tone within the work, employing embellishment when needed. Betjeman created a contrasting mood in this piece. It is mostly relaxed and peaceful, but towards the end of the poem, it shifts, making the reader feel uneasy and less sure of how much they know about the place they’re learning about. The poem speaks on themes of reality, change, industry, and city-life.
Explore An Edwardian Sunday, Broomhill, Sheffield
The poem depicts Broomhill, Sheffield from the perspective of a speaker who knows the area well. This person is familiar with the structures and types of buildings as well as their architecture. They take the reader through the streets and express their appreciation for the natural beauty surrounding the city. By the end of the poem, the Edwardian, historical image of the city starts to dissolve and modernity and industry creep in. It is a combination of then and now. It is both lacking and bountiful.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure and Poetic Techniques
‘An Edwardian Sunday, Broomhill, Sheffield’ by John Betjeman is a three-stanza poem that’s separated into one stanza of fourteen lines, one of twenty and a final stanza of sixteen lines. The lines do rhyme, but they don’t follow a single consistent pattern. For example, the first stanza begins with the scheme AABCDB and the second starts with ABACDB.
Betjeman also makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘An Edwardian Sunday, Broomhill, Sheffield’ these include alliteration, enjambment, and juxtaposition. The latter, juxtaposition, is when two contrasting things are placed near one another in order to emphasize that contrast.
A poet usually does this in order to emphasize a larger theme of their text or make an important point about the differences between these two things. There are several examples within the poem but one of the most poignant comes in line five of the third stanza with the phrase “Of dearth and of bounty”. Here, the speaker is expressing the two sides of Broomhill.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “gable to gable” in the first stanza and “Serene and Sunday” in stanza two.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For instance, the transition between lines twelve and thirteen of the first stanza.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
High dormers are rising
So sharp and surprising,
And ponticum edges
So varied and jolly
Where laurel and holly
Commingle their greens.
In the first stanza of ‘An Edwardian Sunday, Broomhill, Sheffield’, the speaker begins his series of descriptions of Broomhill, Sheffield. The first things he points out are the “dormers,” or windows that project vertically from a sloping roof. These, at this moment, “are rising”. They are “surprising” to the speaker. Perhaps it is their sharpness that takes him by surprise or their contrast to the “ponticum” or purple rhododendron flowers that are along the edges of the gravel driveways. A series of juxtapositions are seen in only these first four lines.
Next, he speaks on how the “stone houses,” a reference to the age of the city, they “Look down,” (note the use of personification here) “on ravines”. A ravine is a deep, narrow gorge that has steep sides. The steepness of the ravine is echoed by the height and sharpness of the dormers but they go in opposite directions.
If one was in the city, as the speaker was when he saw these sights, they’d see that one can look around easily and see from “gable to gable”. The use of repetition and alliteration in this line helps to paint the image of one house after another with the same kind of pitched roof.
There are also turrets and mansions and grander buildings in amongst the simpler houses. Additionally, while introducing a more joyous mood, there are expanses of green space to be seen. That is where one can and “laurel and holly trees” together just like the smaller pitched roof houses and the larger “Italianate mansion” are located within the same city. They “commingle” or live beside one another and share resources.
Serene on a Sunday
The sun glitters hotly
O’er mills that on Monday
Through rich bombazine;
What love is born new there
In blushing eighteen!
In the second stanza of ‘An Edwardian Sunday, Broomhill, Sheffield’ the speaker uses alliteration in the first line. He describes how on a Sunday one will discover that it’s “Serene” in this city. Another “s” world “sun” pops up in the second line, an example of sibilance.
The atmospheres on Sundays and Mondays are juxtaposed in the next lines. The peace gives away to the humming of engines and works time hours on Monday. But the industrial chaos that reigns in some parts of the country does not play itself out so drastically in the city that Betjeman is interested in. The workers travel to parts of Sheffield in order to find relief from the work of everyday life.
They arrive there because the sounds are more muted. Rather than hard work and industry, there are only the soft sounds of shoes on stone and worshipers headed to church. These walkers “wend” or wind their way slowly, to church. No one is in a rush and everyone is happy and at peace, even if they are alone.
Now, taking the reader into the church the speaker describes a heaven-like scene playing out. There is “Eve,” a young woman who is for the first time experiencing love. The perfectly rhymed lines that have thus far made up the entire poem give the city. a perfect, ideal air, a fact that is questioned in the next lines. But, a reader should consider the implications of this ideal cityscape and the inclusion of the image of Eve in the text. This perfect-seeming place can’t last forever, the poet’s romanticized image is going to be interrupted in the next stanza.
Your prospects will please her,
The iron-king’s daughter,
Up here on Broomhill;
Where industry thrives
In this hill-shadowed city
Of razors and knives.
The “Edwardian” aspect of this city is emphasized in the next lines of ‘An Edwardian Sunday, Broomhill, Sheffield’. The speaker turns to a second-person perspective, addressing the intended listener of this poem, or perhaps any reader who comes upon it. He tells this person that their “prospects,” or job, wealth, future, are going to “please her” This “her” seems to reference the woman at the end of the second stanza. She is the “iron-king’s daughter”. While not explicitly stated, it is likely that this name refers to a man in the city whose profession has something to do with iron, more so than it does to an actual king.
Continuing the historical theme of the work, Betjeman uses the name “Hallamshire” to refer to South Yorkshire where Sheffield is found. The next lines create a list of features that speak to a clearer reality of what the city is like now, contrasted with the ideal image of it presented in the first lines. It is a place of both “dearth,” or lack, and “bounty,” meaning plenty. This is the most powerful juxtaposition yet.
There, one can find “furnace and mill,” evidence of work and labour. There is also an “Ebenezer” in residence, looking down from his typical height above the rest of the city-goers.
In the last lines of the poem the speaker calls the city a place “Where industry thrives” and a “hill-shadowed city / Of razors and knives”. Yet, it is still a place, sometimes, of “pretty”. The speaker is able to see and express the reality of this world. There are the beautiful parts, such as the green spaces and old stone buildings, but there are also the darker, greedier, and more industrial areas.