mjj (flemmings) wrote,

'They're changing guards at Buckingham Palace'

I have here a book, Ode to London, subtitled 'Poems to Celebrate the City.' The editor says, 'As this is an Ode to London I have unashamedly omitted any poems that I felt did not flatter the city'. She then includes Blake's 'I wander thro' each charter'd street.' Go figure. Go figure also that the Blake is the best poem in the book. Dryden and Dunbar's offerings are tedious (are they talking about a real city?); even Kipling, though welcome, is oddly subdued. We won't mention Byron or Auden. I don't know what's needed to celebrate London but it isn't this. Or Betjeman being annoying either:

Business Girls

From the geyser ventilators
Autumn winds are blowing down
On a thousand business women
Having baths in Camden Town

Waste pipes chuckle into runnels,
Steam's escaping here and there,
Morning trains through Camden cutting
Shake the Crescent and the Square.

Early nip of changeful autumn,
Dahlias glimpsed through garden doors,
At the back precarious bathrooms
Jutting out from upper floors;

And behind their frail partitions
Business women lie and soak,
Seeing through the draughty skylight
Flying clouds and railway smoke.

Rest you there, poor unbelov'd ones,
Lap your loneliness in heat.
All too soon the tiny breakfast,
Trolley-bus and windy street!

Oh gee, poor sweeties, if only they had a *man* to get up and make a substantial breakfast for, how much happier they would be.

Frankly nothing captures London better for me than 221B, or possibly TS Eliot-- though I believe the early poems were about St Louis, or maybe Boston?

But then, happily, there's this poem, to remind me that I can never see some things as others have seen them because-- well, because.

Rising Damp

("A river can sometimes be diverted but is a very hard thing to lose altogether" - Paper to the Auctioneers Institute, 1907)

At our feet they lie low,
The little fervent underground
Rivers of London

Effra, Graveney, Flacon, Quaggy,
Wandle, Walbrook, Tyburn, Fleet

Whose names are disfigured,
Frayed, effaced.

There are the Magogs that chewed the clay
To the basin that London nestles in.
These are the currents that chiselled the city,
That washed the clothes and turned the mills,
Where children drank and salmon swam
And wells were holy.

They have gone under.
Boxed, like the magician's assistant.
Buried alive in earth.
Forgotten, like the dead.

They return spectrally after heavy rain,
Confounding suburban gardens. They infiltrate
Chronic bronchitis statistics. A silken
Slur haunts dwellings by shrouded
Watercourses, and is taken
For the footing of the dead.

Being of our world, they will return
(Westbourne, caged at Sloane Square,
Will jack from his box),
Will deluge cellars, detonate manholes,
Plant effluent on our faces,
Sink the city.

Effra, Graveney, Falcon, Quaggy,
Wandle, Walbrook, Tyburn, Fleet

It is the other rivers that lie
Lower, that touch us only in dreams
That never surface. We feel their tug
As a dowser's rod bends to the surface below

Phlegethon, Acheron, Lethe, Styx.
--LA Fanthorpe
Tags: place, reading_13, rivers, verse

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