Sunday, November 08, 2009

In Deptford streets the houses small huddle forlorn together

On Remembrance Day, the most famous poem of the First World War will no doubt be extensively quoted. For The Fallen by Laurence Binyon was written in 1914, when the war had barely begun, and features the lines:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Less well remembered is Binyon's London Visions (1895), a collection that includes two poems about Deptford. The poem John Winter is the tale of a local lad who seemingly wants to run away and be a sailor:

What ails John Winter, that so oft Silent he sits apart?
The neighbours cast their looks on him; But deep he hides his heart.
In Deptford streets the houses small Huddle forlorn together.
Whether the wind blow or be still, 'Tis soiled and sorry weather.

But over these dim roofs arise Tall masts of ocean ships.
Whenever John Winter looked on them, The salt blew on his lips.
He cannot pace the street about, But they stand before his eyes!
The more he shuns them, the more proud And beautiful they rise...'

In the same collection, the poem Deptford paints a less than flattering portrait of the area, it's wretchedness seemingly only surpassed by the misery of the broken-hearted narrator:

'Well is it, shrouded Sun, thou spar'st no ray
To illumine this sad street! A light more bare
Would but discover more this bald array
Of roofs dejected, windows patched that stare
From sordid walls: for the shy breath of Spring,
Her cheek of flowers, or fragrance of her hair,
Thou could'st not, save to cheated memory, bring.

Alas! I welcome this dull mist, that drapes
The path of the heavy sky above the street,
Casting a phantom dimness on these shapes
That pass, by toil disfeatured, with slow feet
And with mistrustful eyes; though in the mud
Children the play of ages old repeat,
Because of quenchless wanting in their blood...'

1 comment:

CarolineLD said...

Thank you, fascinating - if depressing.