London Poem by Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel


Another sound,
Akin to the sea-sound, was in mine ears,
Resembling some huge roar of a far furnace,
Whose sullen flare through wallowing mists impure
Burned like the fire-flush from those realms of Dis
In that deep-mouthed verse of the Mantuan.
Huge murmur from the throat of Babylon!
Illimitable leagues of piles confused,
Dome, tower, and steeple, stately palaces,
Islanded in a welter of dim street;
Mean habitations, warrens of dun life,
Tortuous, swarming; sullied, pale, cramped life,
With, in the midst, a large imperial River,
Turbid and troubled, the town's artery,
Spanned by tumultuous bridges; o'er them clang
Steam-dragon, chariot, horse, and laden wain,
With hurrying people of the human hive;
Whose shores are thronged with warehouse, opulent wharf,
Whose turbulent tide upbuoyeth bark and barge,
Throbbing, foam-trailing steamer, russet sail,
And stately ships from far sea-sundered lands.
But over all a brown Plutonian gloom
Of murk air dismal and defiled, the breath
Of our so monstrous town - her visible sin,
And weight of wan woe, blotting out sweet heaven!
Behold the River! a guilt-laden ghost,
How he hurries all unlingering below,
Away, away, through horror of deep night,
Pale with the guilty secret of the city!
Like that sin-burdened victim, driven forth
In Israel to the wilds, ashamed Thames
Rolls headlong, tarries nor to look, nor listen,
Hastens to hide himself in the great Deep,
There to confide, unbosom, bury there,
The tomb, the womb, the unfathomed other-world,
Absolving and absorbing Mother Ocean,
The ineffable oppression at his heart,
The horror of unutterable wrong!
How changed, O Thames! from in thine earlier hour
Of child-like dallying among reeds and lilies,
White swans, and flowers, and boats of lingering lovers,
By Marlow, Maidenhead, or Cliveden Grove!
O whirling wheels! O throngs of murmuring men!
Where is the goal of infinite endeavour?
And where your haven, O ye fleeting faces?
High Westminster, like some tall ghostly father
Of olden time, stands wildered, while for crowds
Of modern men, swift eddying at his feet,
His reverend grandeur void of consolation
Broods; for no warriors, consecrated kings,
Kings who were crowned here through the centuries,
Nor bard, nor saint, emblazoned on the pane,
Canopied under marble in the aisle,
Whose shadowy memories haunt his heart, may help.
These are unsceptred; time trends otherwhere;
Their slumber is by channels long deserted!
His hoary towers, with melancholy eyes,
Dream in their own world, impotent for ours;
Or if he speak, who may interpret now?
He wakes in vain, who slept for centuries,
For he awakens in some alien world.
Doth Hope inhabit, then, the sister-pile,
Whose stately height hath grown to overshadow
That hoary minster? This in sooth avails.
And yet methinks more health is in the old,
Renewing youth from fountains of the new,
Than in rash overthrow of all men built,
With salt of insolence sown in holy places.
Therefore, O secular, and sacred towers,
Confound your glories by the river-shore,
And marry your mighty tones in ordering time!
Cathedral organ, roll insurgent sound,
As though the archangel would arouse the dead!
Our firm foundations on the invisible,
Build we the ever ampler, loftier state,
Till unaware we walk the City of God!
Yea, for I deem the fathers we revere,
Shrined in cathedral glooms, embolden us
With eyes of silent counsel, and dumb power,
Approving backs turned on their empty tomb.
But who may slay the irrevocable Past?
The Past, our venerable Sire, who girds
Bright armour round us, like some grand old knight,
With benediction sending forth fair youth
To battle, crowning what himself began!
When England bathes in shadow, the tall tower
Of that great palace of the people shines,
Shines to the midnight like a midnight sun.
While crowned, inherited incompetence,
And while law-making men laborious
Through long night-watches, in their golden chamber,
Wage wordy wars of faction, help the State,
The dreadful river rolls in darkness under,
Whirling our human lights to wild witch-gleam!
See yellow lamps in formidable gloom
Of both the shores, night-hearted haunts of men;
Terrible water heaped about great piers
Of arches, gliding, gurgling, ominous!
But on the vasty parapet above
Those Titan tunnels, ghastlier for the glare
Of our electric mockery of moons,
Appears a moment a fate-haunted face -
Wan Desolation, plunging to the Void.
Then swirls a form dishonoured among gleams,
Which eddy as light-headed; what was man,
With other offal flotsam, flounders, rolls.
But now for one who mused upon the bridge,
Of pier and arch tremendous, the huge reek,
And sin-breathed exhalations of the city,
Transfigured by an alchemy of power,
Burned with all colour; the broad river rose
Aslant horizonward, and heavenward,
One calm aerial glory of still dream;
Thronged habitations on the shadowy shore
Blend solemn, disembodied to a bloom
Ethereal, bathed in evening; fair, enchased,
Or diapered upon the delicate air,
Hull, mast, sail, tiny bark, or barge, or steamer,
Poised darkly in mid primrose of the tide,
Like carven fretwork on a golden shrine.
All monstrous hostels, with interminable
Glazed bulks that over-roof the clanging train,
And all our builded chaos doth repent,
Converting into beauty; while I muse,
The mild and modulated cadences
Of lemon fruit, shy violet, dove-down,
Deepen to very pomp and festival
Of dyes magnificent; one diapason
Of hues resplendent, crimson, gold, and green,
And purple gorgeous, like robes of kings,
Or caves of sun-illumined sea-treasure,
Or glories blazoned in cathedral aisle,
Heart of white lily, fruit of passion-flower,
Or fervid eagle-eyes; a parable,
One nuptial-feast of marrying glow and gloom,
A wondrous parable of life through death!
While yonder haughty heights of Westminster,
Where once fierce feuds of our illustrious dead
Sleep reconciled in monumental calm,
Mary reposing by Elizabeth,
And where with throes of living, loud debate
Are brought to birth the still behests of Heaven;
With ancient consecrated privilege
Of lordly Lambeth on his stately sward;
These, and the grand dome, and the four grim towers,
Haunted by phantoms of long-wandering crime,
And harbours thronged with navies of the world,
Glow fair a moment with supernal fire.

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