Wednesday, 12 June 2013
Peter Porter's 'Thomas Hardy at Westbourne Park Villas': A London Journey Into Darkness
Portrait of Thomas Hardy by William Strang, 1893.
I have this week come across a couple of poems inspired by Thomas Hardy, or invoking him in some way. One of the poems was 'Thomas Hardy Considers the Newly-Published Special Theory of Relativity' by the science fiction writer Brian Aldiss. The other was this poem by Australian poet Peter Porter, who made London his home for much of his life. I came across it while looking for London poems of light or of darkness, knowing that I'd overwhelmingly find the latter.
THOMAS HARDY AT WESTBOURNE PARK VILLAS (Peter Porter)
I used to live in West London not very far from Westbourne Park Villas, and near other streets and areas associated with Hardy. I sometimes walked down Westbourne Park Villas. There is an awareness that comes to me when I know that a writer or someone personally significant lived in a place. It is perhaps related to the feeling I get when I look at a manuscript in the writer's own hand. I feel as though they are still there.
Hardy's poetry has both a luminous clarity and an emotional gloom. In Porter's beautiful poem, as so often in London poetry, the dark and the light work off each other, but the overall effect gives way to the darkness. The final lines seem to fall with a clang like an iron portcullis.
The watchful conspirator against the gods
Come to the capital of light on his own grim
Journey into darkness; the dazzle would tell
Him these were the worst of possible odds -
ordinary gestures of time working on faces the watermark of hell.