December 2, 2010 country and city
Jonathan Bate (a legend) gave our John Clare lecture today. Clare was a peasant poet, very little educated, but with a brilliant talent. He loved his small patch of countryside in Northamptonshire and rarely ventured outside it, so his poetry has a sense of being strongly rooted in place. He was really experimental with traditional forms, a lot of his work is really structurally interesting. He kept publishing until he went mad in the 1890s at which point he was clapped up in an asylum by his publisher and his wife, until his death. He had some bizarre delusions. He thought he was Byron. He thought he had two wives. He thought he was Nelson as well.
Still, he was a really great poet.
I have finished (maybe) my City poem.
It’s called London. Not very original.
The city churns into the skyline
With its raging towers, its black glass.
Its dark foundations
In the shivering underground
Stretched tangled under the floodplain
Buried dank and hot under miles of rock.
But —In places the city spools
Coolly into glimpses of silence
Where white buildings harbour philosophies
Against flood and fire.
There, aching bodies snatch
Moments of rest.
Still the roads everywhere
The circuses, gardens, strands and streets
Encircling, throttling, hurtling out and beyond
Lined with roaring traffic
And a great human groan of desperation.
A billion souls litter this place.
Money money money. Some buildings
Scream it, their blank glass pulsing with money
The business men pouring
Into their devouring mouths –
The clicking of their shoes says money.
And some places destitute screaming
A different kind of money – a plea this time
Or new kind of holy,
Sanctified by smoke and crack cocaine.
In crumbling doorways
The righteous young women with five babies.
It is a place of wonder. This city.
Back to back the howling cabs.
The druggies yowling hunched on benches
And ambitious women sobbing in public bathrooms
The hunched black backs of the commuters
Forming a moving mass, a Roman
Defence against poverty and the elements,
The glittering street performers,
The hippies, punks and peace protesters,
The tattoo parlours
The million types of food
And the dark spires and the river.