Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Ode to London

A global city, one of the world’s great cities, this place we call and know as London. It has given birth to empire and great literature, houses the oldest continuing monarchy, has created innovative office architecture (The Shard, the Gherkin and the Walkie-Talkie, to mention three) to decorate its skyline, and expresses itself as a contemporary metropolis while more than 2,000 years of history lie beneath it.

It is only fitting that London should have a collection of poems devoted to it. Jane McMorland Hunter’s Ode to London: Poems to Celebrate the City is a small volume but with exactly the right poems to recognize and celebrate the city.

McMorland is a writer and gardener, and works at Slightly Foxed Books on Gloucester Road in west London. She’s published three additional poetry anthologies: First World War Poems, Favorite Poems of England, and Classic Readings & Poems: For Weddings, Christenings, Funerals and All Occasions, in addition to several books on gardening.

Published in 2012, Ode to London includes poems and writers familiar and unfamiliar, historical and contemporary, all of whom celebrate the city. The poems are not in chronological order but rather organized by six categories – its industry, shipping and the Thames, nature, architecture, seasons and people (McMorland gives each section more poetic titles).

Jane McMorland Hunter
The poets include Lord Byron, John Dryden, Mary Robinson, William Blake, Rudyard Kipling, Wilfred Owen, Eleanor Farjeon, Robert Herrick, John Donne, Alfred Noyes, Carrie, Etter, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, John Betjeman, A.A. Milne, and William Wordsworth. They write of summer mornings, arriving in London, the Great Fire (1666), the streets, riding a bus, the Thames and its bridges, the gardens and trees, the weather, Londoners, the statues of Buckingham Palace, and cats (in the case of T.S. Eliot).

The book’s numerous illustrations are all taken from posters published over the years by Transport for London, the government agency that runs the city’s underground and bus systems. Many of the posters are available through the London Transport Museum.

Here is one familiar poem from the collection:

Composed Upon Westminster Bridge
By William Wordsworth

September 3, 1802
Written in the roof of a coach, on my way to France

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, Theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glimmering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendor, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Ode to London is a small, readable collection of poems that celebrate a great city.

Photograph: Westminster Bridge, London.

1 comment:

Susan said...

I don't read much poetry, but this sounds like a lovely book to read in anticipation of a trip. We were in London a year ago Christmastime and I would love to go back.