Odes To London


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It’s a rare pleasant morning in the City, so let’s have some London poetry, starting with this end of a poem by WH Auden on Londoners:


It belongs to them, to make it what they choose.

For democracy means faith in the ordinary man and woman,

in the decency of average human nature.

Here then in London build the city of the free.


And fragments from Wordsworth’s ‘Composed on Westminster Bridge’:

The City now doth, like a garment, wear

The beauty of the morning silent, bare…

Ne’er I saw, never felt, a calm so deep!

The riveth glideth at its own sweet will:

Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;

And all that mighty heart is lying still!


I love John Davidson’s couplet:

An ever-muttering prisoned storm,

The heart of London beating warm.


This is from ASJ Tessimond;

I am the reticent, the private city,

The city of lovers hiding wrapped in shadows,

The city of people sitting and talking quietly

Behind shut doors and walls as thick as a century,

People who laugh too little and too loudly,

Whose tears fall inward, flowing back to the heart.


And from Spike Milligan…


I am the Vicar of St Paul’s

And I’m ringing the steeple bell,

The floor of the church is on fire,

Or the lid has come off Hell.

Shall I ring the fire brigade?

Or should I trust in the Lord?

Oh dear, I’ve just remembered –

I don’t think we’re insured!

‘What’s this then?’ said the fire chief.

Is this church C of E?

It is? Then we can’t put it out,

My lads are all RC!


Christopher Wren’s inscription for St Paul’s…


‘Si monumentum requiris, cricumspice’

(‘If you seek a monument, look around’)


And a thought for the day ahead from Juan Octavio Prenz…


One day more is one day less

That is to say that every day is more

And every day is less

That’s why

There is no addition that doesn’t subtract

There is no subtraction that doesn’t add

There remains

clear like an adventure

the day.


The modern London posters are from this site.

7 comments on “Odes To London”

  1. Jo W says:

    Some great lines there,Admin. My favourite verse is by Shona Burns (1976) . It is called Macquis and is about the ability of nature to re-establish itself wherever man leaves a space,whether along pavements or on building sites awaiting redevelopment. Been loving the photos of sleazy Kings Cross too! Any more pictures of the dark places to come?

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    A nice way to start the day. indeed. Thanks.
    After a very humid and hot, but satisfying weekend spent trying to catch up with the yard’s vegetative growth spurt – we were away for 23 days which proved a tad too long. As most of the plants and certainly the weeds took serious advantage of our absence. “Have they left yet? They have? Party!”
    I particularly enjoyed reading the J.O. Prenz, which was new.
    My father, who loved London after his time stationed there during WWII, often quoted “Composed on Westminster Bridge.”

  3. Henry Ricardo says:

    Thanks. I’ll be in London toward the end of July. I’m looking forward to celebrating the royal birth with all of you.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    Lovely poems – we studied the Wordsworth in high school, but like everything else in high school, didn’t appreciate it.

  5. snowy says:

    What strange places a blog post can lead one.

    From Spike Milligan to Stanley Hollaway, and then onto numerous parodies of ‘The boy stood on the burning deck….’ only to end up at:

    “There’s a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu,
    There’s a little marble cross below the town;
    There’s a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew,
    And the Yellow God forever gazes down…..”

    Which started life as a melodramatic monologue, but morphed into a routine for a comic and stooge, and is now almost completely lost.

  6. Dan Terrell says:

    Snowy: “But good” – old joke punch line. And well remembered – Mad Carew.

  7. Jez Winship says:

    The Wordsworth poem is plummily intoned at the beginning of All That Mighty Heart, a fascinating day in the life of London short made by British Transport films in 1963 and featuring on the BFI British Transport Films Vol.10 collection. The very houses (of parliament, I presume) abutting the bridge look distinctly grubby in those coal-powered days.
    Carol Ann Duffy’s The Thames, London 2012 is another good London river poem.

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