Sunday, 16 December 2012

"The Heart of London Beating Warm": John Davidson's 'London''

This painting is by Canaletto, who lived in London in the 1740s and 50s. I am not a huge fan, but his almost photographic ability can be amazing.

I walked across Waterloo Bridge at about 5:30 yesterday evening, when of course it was pitch dark. The illuminated dome of St Paul's, the City skyscrapers, the National Theatre in blood red and all the other sights of the Thames were quite extraordinary. It remains my favourite place for a view up and down the river, by day or by night.

Here is another wonderful (and out of copyright!) London poem cribbed from the pages of Mark Ford's anthology London: A History In Verse. John Davidson's dates are 1857 to 1909, although I do not know the exact date of this poem. The imagery of London's many voices become a single voice, or heartbeat, seems to recur in the work of so many poets.

LONDON (John Davidson)

Athwart the sky a lowly sigh
From west to east the sweet wind carried;
The sun stood still on Primrose Hill;
His light in all the city tarried:
The clouds on viewless columns bloomed
Like smouldering lilies unconsumed.

Oh sweetheart, see! how shadowy,
Of some occult magician's rearing,
Or swung in space of heaven's grace
Dissolving, dimly reappearing,
Afloat upon ethereal tides
St. Paul's above the city rides!

A rumour broke through the thin smoke
Enwreathing abbey, tower, and palace,
The parks, the squares, the thoroughfares,
The million-peopled lanes and alleys,
An ever-muttering prisoned storm,
The heart of London beating warm.

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