Monday, 28 January 2013

"Tantarara, - Vauxhall! Vauxhall!"

Tonight I thought I would do something a little out of the ordinary and find a poem about London that wasn't somehow about gloom, dreadful night, loneliness, anxiety, and other such dark poetic truths. (Although this is really just part of my ongoing procrastination exercise in putting off some entries that I really NEED to write.)

Anyway, the Mark Ford London: A History In Verse anthology provided me with this entertaining piece, 'A New Song of the Spring Garden' by Austin Dobson (1840-1921). The Spring Gardens or Vauxhall Gardens, at Vauxhall and Kennington, were once one of the wonders of London from the mid-17th to the mid-19th centuries. (As they closed in 1859, the poet's dates make me think that he was harking back to a past time already and invoking an earlier style.) The architecture was Rococo and there were hot air balloon ascents, musicians, fireworks, and a great many people flirting. The above illustration shows the area, and the extent of its magnificence, in the 1750s.

It is very hard to imagine all of this today. I know the area around Vauxhall bus station well - since I moved to south London I have spent a lot of time there, on my way to and from different parts of my life: work, worship, walks along the Thames. When about two weeks ago a helicopter struck a crane and plummeted to the ground at Vauxhall, killing the pilot and one man on the ground, the shock was greater because I consider it one of my neighbourhoods and could picture everything too easily - I was in bed when the accident happened, but it really is little more than "down the road", and at least one friend of a friend was there when it happened.

At any rate, all that is left of the Spring Gardens is a very scrubby little park, overlooked by trains, council flats and MI6. There is a small city farm there and sometimes I've walked past little girls taking riding lessons, which is a pleasant thing to see in the middle of London. But it's hardly the world of this poem. Although, Vauxhall is now quite renowned for its raucous nightclubs - the poem's content does suggest that this is a tradition that may have started some time ago.

Oh, and I have no idea what a "cit" is. Anyone?


Come hither ye gallants, come hither ye maids,
To the trim gravelled walks, to shady arcades.
Come hither, come hither, the nightingales call; -
Sing Tantarara, - Vauxhall! Vauxhall!

Come hither, ye cits, from your Lothbury hives!
Come hither, ye husbands, and look to your wives!
For the sparks are as thick as the leaves in the Mall; -
Sing Tantarara, - Vauxhall! Vauxhall!

Here the 'prentice from Aldgate may ogle a Toast!
Here his Worship must elbow the knight of the post!
For the wicket is free to the great and the small; -
Sing Tantarara, - Vauxhall! Vauxhall!

Here Betty may flaunt in her mistress's sack!
Here Trip wear his master's brocade on his back!
Here a hussy may ride, and a rogue take the wall; -
Sing Tantarara, - Vauxhall! Vauxhall!

Here Beauty may grant, here Valour may ask!
Here the plainest may pass for a Belle (in a mask!)
Here a domino covers the short and the tall; -
Sing Tantarara, - Vauxhall! Vauxhall!

'Tis a type of the world, with its drums and its din;
'Tis a type of the world, for when you come in
You are loth to go out; like the world 'tis a ball; -
Sing Tantarara, - Vauxhall, Vauxhall!

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