Read an Excerpt
London in Poetry and Prose
By Anna Adams
Enitharmon PressCopyright © 2002 Anna Adams
All rights reserved.
THE GREAT WEN
I behold London, a Human awful wonder of God.
William Blake, Jerusalem
Rise Up, Thou Monstrous Ant-hill on the Plain
Rise up, thou monstrous ant-hill on the plain
Of a too busy world! Before me flow,
Thou endless stream of men and moving things!
Thy every-day appearance, as it strikes –
With wonder heightened, or sublimed by awe –
On strangers, of all ages; the quick dance
Of colours, lights, and forms; the deafening din;
The comers and the goers face to face,
Face after face; the string of dazzling wares,
Shop after shop, with symbols, blazoned names,
And all the tradesman's honours overhead:
Here, fronts of houses, like a title-page
With letters huge inscribed from top to toe;
Stationed above the door, like guardian saints,
There, allegoric shapes, female or male,
Or physiognomies of real men,
Land-warriors, kings, or admirals of the sea,
Boyle, Shakespeare, Newton, or the attractive
Of some quack-doctor, famous in his day.
Meanwhile the roar continues, till at length,
Escaped as from an enemy, we turn
Abruptly into some sequestered nook,
Still as a sheltered place when winds blow loud!
At leisure, thence, through tracts of thin resort,
And sights and sounds that come at intervals,
We take our way. A raree-show is here,
With children gathered round; another street
Presents a company of dancing dogs,
Or dromedary, with an antic pair
Of monkeys on his back; a minstrel band
Of Savoyards; or, single and alone,
An English ballad-singer. Private courts,
Gloomy as coffins, and unsightly lanes
Thrilled by some female vendor's scream, belike
The very shrillest of all London cries,
May then entangle our impatient steps;
Conducted through those labyrinths, unawares,
To privileged regions and inviolate,
Where from their airy lodges studious lawyers
Look out on waters, walks, and gardens green.
It is fearful! It is mad!
It is fearful! It is mad! I am quite giddy and confused. London is the grandest and most complicated monster on the face of the earth. How can I compress into one letter what I have experienced in the last three days! I hardly remember the chief events, and yet I dare not keep a diary, for then I should have to see less of life, and that I do not wish. On the contrary, I wish to take everything that offers itself. Things toss and whirl about me as if I were in a vortex, and I am whirled along with them. Not in the last six months in Berlin have I seen so many contrasts and such variety as in these three days. Just turn to the right from my lodging, walk down Regent Street and see the wide, bright thoroughfare with its arcades (alas! it is again enveloped in a thick fog today) and the shops with signs as big as a man, and the stage-coaches piled up with people, and a row of vehicles left behind by the pedestrians because in one place the smart carriages have crowded the way! See how a horse rears before a house because his rider has acquaintances there, and how men are used for carrying advertisements on which the graceful achievements of accomplished cats are promised, and the beggars, and the negroes, and those fat John Bulls with their slender, beautiful daughters hanging on their arms. Ah, those daughters! However, do not be alarmed, there is no danger in that quarter, neither in Hyde Park, so rich in ladies, where I drove about yesterday in a fashionable manner with Mme. Moscheles, nor at the concerts, nor at the Opera, (for I have already been to all those places); only at the corners and crossings is there any danger, and there I sometimes say softly to myself, in a well-known voice: 'Take care lest you get run over'. Such confusion, such a whirl! But I will become historical, and quietly relate my doings, else you will learn nothing about me.
* * *
Could you but see the highly respectable, fog-enveloped street and hear the deplorable voice with which a beggar down there pours forth his ditty (he will soon be drowned out by the street-vendors) and could you suspect that from here to the City is a three-quarters -of-an-hour drive, and that along the whole way, at every cross street of which one catches a glimpse, the uproar is the same, if not far greater, and that one has then traversed only about a quarter of residential London, then you might understand how it is that I am half distracted. But I must be historical!
Hampstead, Highgate, Finchley, Hendon, Muswell
hill rage loud
Before Bromion's iron Tongs & glowing Poker
Hertfordshire glows with fierce Vegetation; in the
The Oak frowns terrible, the Beech & Ash & Elm
Among the Spiritual fires; loud the Corn-fields
The Soldier's fife, the Harlot's shriek, the Virgin's
The Parent's fear, the Brother's jealousy, the
Beneath the Storms of Theotormon, & the
Heaves in the hand of Palamabron, who in
Before the Anvil watches the bellowing flames:
The Hammer loud rages in Rintrah's strong grasp,
Round from heaven to earth, down falling with
Dead on the Anvil, where the red hot wedge
groans in pain.
He quenches it in the black trough of his Forge:
Feeds the dread Forge, trembling & shuddering
along the Valleys.
London Inside and Outside
Looked back on happily, the ivy-hung,
back-wall-embowered garden of our
pied-à-terre and domicile in Chelsea
seems oddly like some dream of living
halfway down the well that sheltered
Charles Dodgson's Elsie, Lacie
and Tillie – with those geraniums
in urns, that lily-of-the-valley
bed not quite in bloom, those churring
ringdoves, those thrushes murderously
foraging for earthworms: an exterior
so self-contained, a view so inward
that though at night we'd note
faint window-glimmerings eclipsed by ivy,
we seemed to have no neighbors either
to spy on or be spied on by.
Those strolls at dusk, the sidewalks
puddled underfoot, the streetlamps
an aloof processional (a footfall
once or twice, then silence)
at the hour not of the pulling down
of shades but rather of the drawing
in of curtains on their rods, with
an occasional small, to-be-savored
lapse – the glimpse in solitude
of the young woman meditatively
taking off her coat: or of
the table laid, the TV
in the dining room tuned to the news,
a South-Sea-bubble porthole open
on the mysteries of domicile,
of anchorage, of inside-outside!
The night we took the Underground
to Covent Garden, we found the foyer
at the opera a roofed-in waterfall
of crystal, the staircase we sat on
at the interval to eat our ices
carpet-luscious (even to the shod
sole) as a bed of crimson mosses,
the rose-red lampshades erotic
as hothouse hibiscus. Floated
overhead, a firmament of gilt
and turquoise; as that goes dim,
beneath the royal monogram the bell jar
of illusion lifts, and yet again
we're inside-outside: Norina's
rooftop vista (the duenna
furiously knitting) of a hot-bright
Bay of Naples. In the obscurity
of our neck-craning balcony, we
snuggled undetected. Outside there waited
a shivering, rain-speckled exodus among
dark gardens of the inevitable
umbrellas going up.
Scarcely two hours back in the country
and I'm shopping in East Finchley High Road
in a cotton skirt, a cardigan, jandals –
or flipflops as people call them here,
where February's winter. Aren't I cold?
The neighbours in their overcoats are
at my smiles and not at my bare toes:
they know me here.
I hardly know myself,
yet. It takes me until Monday evening,
walking from the office after dark
to Westminster Bridge. It's cold, it's foggy,
the traffic's as abominable as ever,
and there across the Thames is County Hall,
that uninspired stone body, floodlit.
It makes me laugh. In fact, it makes me
The fields from Islington to Marybone,
To Primrose Hill and Saint John's Wood,
Were builded over with pillars of gold;
And there Jerusalem's pillars stood.
William Blake, Jerusalem
T. S. ELIOT
The Burial of the Dead
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying:
'You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!
'That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
'Has it begun to sprout! Will it bloom this year?
'Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
'Oh keep the Dog far hence, that's friend to men,
'Or with his nails he'll dig it up again!
'You! hypocrite lecteur! – mon semblable, – mon
from The Waste Land
I behold London; a Human awful wonder of God!
He says: 'Return, Albion, return! I give myself for
My Streets are my Ideas of Imagination.
Awake, Albion, awake! and let us awake up
My Houses are Thoughts; my Inhabitants
The children of my thoughts, walking within my
Shut from my nervous form which sleeps upon the
verge of Beulah
In dreams of darkness, while my vegetating blood
in veiny pipes,
Rolls dreadful thro' the Furnaces of Los, and the
Mills of Satan.
For Albion's sake and for Jerusalem thy Emanation
I give myself, and these my brethren give
themselves for Albion.'
So spoke London, immortal Guardian! I heard in
In Felpham I heard and saw the Vision of Albion:
I write in South Molton Street, what I both see
In regions of Humanity, in London's opening
* * *
There is a Grain of Sand in Lambeth that Satan
Nor can his Watch Fiends find it: 'tis translucent &
has many Angles:
But he who finds it will find Oothoon's palace; for
Opening into Beulah, every angle is a lovely
But should the Watch Fiends find it, they would
call it Sin
And lay its Heavens & their inhabitants in blood of
* * *
'Highgate's heights & Hampstead's, to Poplar,
Hackney & Bow,
'To Islington & Paddington & the Brook of Albion's
'We builded Jerusalem as a City & a Temple; from
'We began our Foundations, lovely Lambeth! O
'Of Camberwell, we shall behold you no more in
glory & pride,
'For Jerusalem lies in ruins & the Furnaces of Los
are builded there.
'You are now shrunk up to a narrow Rock in the
midst of the Sea;
'But here we build Babylon on Euphrates, compell'd
'And to inhabit, our Little-ones to clothe in armour
of the gold
'Of Jerusalem's Cherubims & to forge them swords
of her Altars.
'I see London, blind & age bent, begging thro' the
'Of Babylon, led by a child; his tears run down his
I was born in one of London's various cities.
And travelled through others that I never could
Explore except from an upper-deck front seat,
In the time I was a nineteen-thirties child.
Grown up from that, I learned to use the maps
Of more of them; but forgot to understand
What my own city told me, that outdated place
I thought I had left behind. When I go back now,
I can feel inside myself something waiting,
By time and the Red Routes and the roundabouts,
By the deaths of faces I grew up among
And lost the strength to know.
I like to think
– Or fear to think it – that one day my city will
Disclose itself, its faces reclaim their focus,
Its culverted rivers flood the hypermarkets,
The cinema organs rise through the motorways.
W. H. AUDEN
A city is the creation of the human will.
Upon the natural life of the field,
Determined by the radiations of the sun and the
swing of the seasons,
Man imposes a human space,
A human skyline,
A human time,
A human order.
A city is not a flower.
It does not grow right by itself.
A human creation,
It needs the human powers of intelligence and
Without them it becomes only a monument to
Out of control, like a malignant tumour,
Stunting and destroying life.
* * *
And the parks and open spaces inside the city:
Battersea Park and Bostall Woods,
Clapham and Tooting Commons,
Peckham Rye and the island gardens of Poplar,
The Regent Canal and the Round Pond of
And pram-covered Hampstead.
Areas of light and air where the bands boom on
Space for strollers,
Liberty for lovers,
Room for rest,
Places for play.
* * *
It belongs to them, to make it what they choose
For democracy means faith in the ordinary man
in the decency of average human nature.
Here then in London build the city of the free.
Excerpted from London in Poetry and Prose by Anna Adams. Copyright © 2002 Anna Adams. Excerpted by permission of Enitharmon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.