In all that bright and glorious sunshine, amongst those trees, those parks, those sculptural delights, Hidden below that Impressive skyline, Beneath and among those imposing sights, How much deprivation is still concealed As that which was to Blake revealed?
( Pen and Wash drawing and the accompanying verse above are by WHB)
What was revealed to William Blake as he wandered the streets of late 18th and early 19th Century London, he wrote about in the following poem. It was first published in his ‘Songs of Experience’ in 1794
London . . . By William Blake
I wander thro’ each charter’d street Near where the charter’d Thames does flow. And mark in every face I meet Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
In every cry of every Man, In every Infants cry of fear, In every voice: in every ban, The mind-forg’d manacles I hear
How the Chimney-sweepers cry Every blackning Church appalls, And the hapless Soldiers sigh Runs in blood down Palace walls
But most thro’ midnight streets I hear How the youthful Harlots curse Blasts the new-born Infants tear And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse
Late autumn evening treading wet leaves on the broad embankment beside the dark river; starry sky and the pavement spotted with lights dark pools between those balustrade sentries the eighty year old yablochkov candles (the country’s very first electric street lights) still throwing the trees’ shadows across the road to Victoria’s gardens.
Perhaps memory twists my tale; mike, dave, wally, ray, with me five of us, fresh lads freshers too up from the far country to study to see the big city to re-start a life men now together soliciting knowledge tempting experience.
Interned for a Chelsea month, then the anticipated incursion, our first excursion into the great city set for new challenges no plan just exploration; for the moment nothing cerebral just life in the moment awaiting a happening neophytic greenhorns.
Walking where Victoria walked, or did she ever really enjoy her gardens by the river? thrilling evening walking that promenade, drinking the sights eating the sounds devouring the smells and tastes soaking up the river and the beer, Victoria’s Embankment Gardens.
We didn’t know it then nor did any of us suspect it was to be ray’s swan song sweet Thames run softly and be his swan song.
Turned up Villiers Street, Kipling’s and Evelyn’s street, tumbled into The Trafalgar, seedy then, well, rare student prices, waitress in black and white I remember the white cap with lace and black band the tiny white apron on black dress alluringly short wiping her hands by rubbing them seductively on her aproned thighs, “what can I get you lads?” … ribaldry … ray “what time do you finish?” … her answer no more than a half-smile;
After the spam fritters and the glorious knickerbockers and more small pink hands attentive hands rubbed clean on lacy white apron, ray’s eyes never taken off them then drinks nothing heavy.
Ray fell must have done from a great height smitten I would say to his adam’s apple core, eyes only for a pretty face and those lacy edges.
Conversation ricocheted across the tables voices spurted out their verbiage as those yablochkov candles expended their light, more raucous than uncouth.
Then the attempt to close to dispense with customers we head for the street ray stays in his seat “’bye chaps, I’ll see you.”
… But he never did.
Nor we him. Ever again.
The Thames Embankment is a work of 19th Century civil engineering which reclaimed marshy land next to the River Thames in central London. It follows the North Bank of the river from Westminster Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge.
The Victoria Embankment Gardens , built also in the latter part of the 19th Century, separate the embankment and the road running alongside from the buildings on the south side of Whitehall, Trafalgar Square and The Strand.
Villiers Street is a short connecting thoroughfare, now mainly pedestrianised, running from the Thames Embankment and Charing Cross underground Station uphill to the Strand, Charing Cross Mainline Railway Station and Trafalgar Square. It contains many restaurants and eating establishments. The Trafalgar Cafe, however, can no longer be found there.
Poem by WHB and re-published in memory of Dave and Mike – now passed on to where all memories are filed and all mysteries are resolved.
On Revisiting the gentle London strolls of my Youth . . .
On foot from Gloucester Road I step out briskly and with soaring expectation along Cromwell Road. Striding forcefully then up Queens Gate, I shortly find myself, almost trotting now, beside the Royal Albert Hall. Soon afterwards, I am jauntily following Kensington Gore. Slowing a little, I meander now, across the width of Hyde Park. Pausing frequently and sauntering to take in the scenery, I haltingly cross over the Serpentine.
Slackening my pace again, I keep heading North to Lancaster Gate. Then, at a relaxed pace, I drift into Sussex Square, from where, slowing even further, I tread the hot pavements along Sussex Gardens.
Working my way sluggishly along Westbourne Terrace I then trudge the length of Praed Street to reach Paddington Station. Thence, struggling increasingly, I head to Edgware Road.
Continuing south to Oxford St and Marble Arch, I move, almost idling, and with the occasional stumble, along the exacting side-walks of Monopoly Land. Then through Mayfair, plodding now, down Park Lane.
Slowing even more, (Is that possible without actually stopping?) I traipse across Piccadilly and round Hyde Park Corner. I turn, unsteadily, into Grosvenor Place, heading towards Buckingham Palace, but, after taking a breather, and deciding to simplify my intended route, I make a right turn through Belgravia.
Treading heavily, I work my way through Embassy Land. I stumble across Sloane Street to Cromwell Road and the V&A Museum.
Thus, at last, weary and definitely plodding now, my failing feet drag my exhausted body back to Gloucester Road, to relaxation and the sought after assuagement of the aches in my trembling limbs
On Revisiting the gentle London strolls of my Youth . . .
I leave, with joyous expectation, from Lots Road to retrace one of my favourite London walks. Stepping out brightly along the Kings Road to the World’s End, I soon move sprightly into Cheyne Walk.
I trip blithely along the Embankment to Albert Bridge, from where I head purposefully along Royal Hospital Road. Onwards then, slowing somewhat, to Chelsea Bridge Road, thence to amble into Sloane Square, from where I cross, a little hesitantly, to Brompton Road.
Soon I’m trying, unsuccessfully, to pick up the pace into Fulham Broadway. I cautiously stretch my legs past Stamford Bridge Football Ground. Aching a little now, and wavering somewhat, I head along the North End Road. Eventually I stumble haltingly into Fulham Palace Road.
Bearing south, with a definite degree of stress now, I continue to where, near Putney Bridge, I take a left into the New Kings Road. Gasping feverishly, I trudge past Parsons Green until, breathing intemperately, and desperate for liquid sustenance and my chaise longue, I return, my curiosity both battered and sated, but with undisguised relief, to Lots Road.
STEVIE SMITH was born Florence Margaret Smith in Kingston-upon-Hull in 1902. At the age of three she moved with her parents to Palmers Green in North London where she lived until she died in 1971.
She apparently acquired the name “Stevie” as a young woman when she was riding in the park with a friend who said that she reminded him of the jockey Steve Donoghue.
Perhaps her best known poem is ‘Not Waving But Drowning’. She often accompanied her verses with her own drawings. One such poem which I particularly like is very short but with an amusingly descriptive illustration . . .
The dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, London, is an incredible structure, a true work of art in the sense of it being both lovely to look at and requiring incredible precision and workmanship in the design and the construction. Sir Christopher Wren, principal architect, originally produced several different designs for his dome before eventually settling on the one we have today, and of course he used a team of architects, who, through seemingly endless discussion, trial drawings, modelling, and debate, eventually produced this, certainly one of the greatest glories of London. (See photograph below).
From 1710, when the present cathedral was completed, until 1962, St.Paul’s Cathedral was London’s tallest building.
The dome of St.Paul’s is built in 3 sections (see side section view below) …
Stage 1: To the Whispering Gallery; 259 steps. Circles the dome’s interior at 30 metres above the floor of the cathedral transept.
Stage 2: Further up to the Stone Gallery; another 119 steps at 53.4 metres above the ground.
Stage 3: To the Golden Gallery, reducing in size as we get higher . This runs around the highest point of the outer dome. It is 85.4 metres (280 ft) from the cathedral floor below and there are another 150 steps to climb to reach it.
That is a total of 528 steps in all!
Having made the journey to the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral only once in my lifetime, and having also once climbed to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, which claims to have the tallest dome in the world, I found it interesting to make some comparisons between these two domed buildings.
St.Peter’s, Rome, has a height of 448 feet (or 136.5 metres) to the top of its cross. It has 551 steps from the floor of the cathedral to the top of the dome
St Paul’s, London, is 365 feet (or 111 metres); It has 528 steps from the ground floor to the top of its dome.
On the basis of these figures, I calculate that the average height of the steps of St.Peter’s is approximately 8 inches, whilst the steps of St.Paul’s have an average height of about 8 1/2 inches. So with St.Paul’s having 23 fewer steps to climb, but each one requiring your foot to be raised an additional ½ inch, which steps are the easier to climb? . . . AND ANSWER CAME THERE NONE!
There are several videos on YouTube which will take you up and down these steps to the Dome of St.Paul’s and which give panoramic views of London from the top.
‘My Parents’, David Hockney, 1977, Oil on Canvas, Tate Gallery, London
Leaving Larkin Alone
‘This Be My Verse’
We all do it We pass on pain From one generation To the next It is essential to our rite of passage backwards to our parents and forward to our offspring
Leaving Larkin alone Although I can see Where he’s coming from My mam and dad Still Loom large in my life Even so long After leaving it
They must have been lonely Lovers of their son Country child Only child Lonely child Left so soon Longing for London’s Lively life And a renewal Of lost love
With some bitterness No bile No bombast I recognise my Ambitions And accept They damaged Not destroyed Their devotion
Through it all Dedication to me And to mine Remained How could I Have acted differently They set me up for this Their ambitions for me Self-harming Through being Selfless Succeeding To their own detriment
Now I find myself Bemoaning With an intensity Which hurts More every day My callous Refutation of their need For my love
If only I’d not been The only one The only child If I’d not deserted That early home With seeming Eagerness That cradle of my mind Those roots of my soul Now so full of meaning So pertinent To the man I have become
But when the conflict Presented itself to me I was by then Committed Other responsibilities Crowded in And parents As happens to them Take the rear seat
And yet I know I had to go To avoid That tethering by love Which smothers More dutiful sons It avoided My hopes Being stifled Petrified And pressed into The backwaters Of a life
Perhaps it must be so For don’t we all do it
Think of those others Leaving behind their roots For pastures new Able to look only onwards Whilst leaving The hurt Of separation From those who loved them But would do nothing But encourage their ambitions
Bennett Showed how to escape Walter and Lilian Whilst continuing To cull their histories
Hughes With his animal instincts Needing to roam free Left William and Edith For an itinerant life
Hockney Soon found California More suitable To his calling Leaving Kenneth and Laura To theirs
I claim None of their skills Their powers To change the world But my history Reflects theirs Grammarians Tykes of a sort And of an age Seeking Advancement Searching for soul For life In pastures new Neglectful of commitment To our own past Conscious only Of our independent futures
It was ever thus All took Larkin At his word Got out – As early as they could And How odd That two of them Even followed Larkin’s advice Eschewing Parenthood The essence of Larkin’s dismissal Of his own birthright His reckoning With Sidney and Eva For giving him birth
But Leaving Larkin alone Again Our legacies may prove Our sense in cutting The ties that bind Perhaps the world is Consequently A better place.
Our parents May not think the same But what are parents Other than The future’s hope
Pub. Faber & Faber … 2009
Philip Larkin’s poem, ‘This Be The Verse’ was written around April 1971, first published in the August 1971 issue of ‘New Humanist’, and appeared in the 1974 collection ‘High Windows’ (Pub. Faber & Faber, 1974). A copy of the poem can be read on the Poetry Foundation website at: ‘This Be The Verse’