Sunday, 25 August 2013

"Circled Cosmos": G K Chesterton's 'King's Cross Station'

Kings Cross Station London by Nick Linnett Photography. Used under Creative Commons license

This afternoon I was on the Piccadilly line heading for King's Cross Station (just to collect train tickets, not to go anywhere exciting yet - that will be in the next couple of weeks) and reading Christopher Fowler's Bryant and May On the Loose, one of his rather wonderful and esoteric London mysteries about two elderly detectives named Bryant and May. This one is based around King's Cross, and so it was that I found myself reading these lines just a few stops away: "Below him was the most connected part of the city. It operated like a giant wall socket overloaded with too many crackling plugs." Christopher Fowler understands London better than the vast majority of writers, and I found myself smiling as the Piccadilly pulled into King's Cross - not necessarily a normal thing to do under those circumstances.

It may be an utterly obvious and redundant thing to say, but I have realised that one of the reasons I love London so much (despite everything) is that it allows me to inhabit my childhood fantasies about living in a book. I don't know if those fantasies had a precise definition. I didn't really picture something like Michael Ende's The Neverending Story, where the protagonist actually ends up in a book and having to make choices which affect not only himself, but the storyline and the other characters. (Although that book completely enchanted me and continues to do so.) But I definitely wanted to live in a book. And here I am. I live in London, so I live in hundreds or thousands of books, not just one. And wherever I go, something will call one or more of them to mind. I have to admit that I feel a bit sorry for people who don't travel through the city in this dimension.

I have already written about one marvellous King's Cross poem, Toby Martinez de las Rivas's 'Man Praying, King's Cross, 34°'. In its darkness and its close observation of London's many personalities, it would fit well with a Bryant and May novel. Here is another poem which I tracked down tonight, G K Chesterton's 'King's Cross Station'.


This circled cosmos whereof man is god
     Has suns and stars of green and gold and red,
And cloudlands of great smoke, that range o'er range
     Far floating, hide its iron heavens o'erhead.

God! shall we ever honour what we are,
     And see one moment ere the age expire,
The vision of man shouting and erect,
     Whirled by the shrieking steeds of flood and fire?
Or must Fate act the same grey farce again,
     And wait, till one, amid Time's wrecks and scars,
Speaks to a ruin here, 'What poet-race
     Shot such cyclopean arches at the stars?'

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