|Archive for Big Readers A place for discussing books and all things bookish.
poems that celebrate a real village, city or townMy wife and I were working a crossword puzzle and couldn't figure one of the clues: "Tiger Lilly" poet. OK, I admit that I sought the wisdom of Google. But in discovering Sidney Lanier as the poet, I bumped into another poem of his that surprised me. "Ode to Johns Hopkins University," a school that I attended. The poem is an Ode not only to the school but to Baltimore, my home town, as well as my beloved Chesapeake Bay...all of which made me wonder about poems that are paeans to a real town or city. (...and which made me a bit homesick)
So there you have my question. What good poems do you know that celebrate a real city or town?
I wouldn't exactly call this a good poem - it's a great one.
Bonnie Dundee in 1878
Oh, Bonnie Dundee! I will sing in thy praise
A few but true simple lays,
Regarding some of your beauties of the present day
And virtually speaking, there's none can them gainsay;
There's no other town I know of with you can compare
For spinning mills and lasses fair,
And for stately buildings there's none can excel
The beautiful Albert Institute or the Queen's Hotel,
For it is most handsome to be seen,
Where accommodation can be had for Duke, Lord or Queen,
And the four pillars of the front are made of Aberdeen granite, very fine,
And most beautiful does shine, just like a looking glass,
And for beauty and grandeur there's none can them surpass.
And your fine shops in Reform Street,
Very few can with them compete
For superfine goods, there's none can excel,
From Inverness to Clerkenwell.
And your Tramways, I must confess,
That they have proved a complete success,
Which I am right glad to see ...
And a very great improvement to Bonnie Dundee.
And there's the Royal Arch, most handsome to be seen,
Erected to the memory of our Most Gracious Queen -
Most magnificent to see,
And a very great honour to the people of Dundee.
Then there's the Baxter Park, most beautiful to see,
And a great boon it is to the people of Dundee,
For there they can enjoy themselves when they are free from care
By inhaling the perfumed air,
Emanating from the sweet flowers and green trees and shrubs there.
Oh, Bonnie Dundee! I must conclude my muse,
And to write in praise of thee, my pen does not refuse,
Your beauties that I have alluded to are most worthy to see,
And in conclusion, I win call thee Bonnie Dundee!
William Topaz McGonagall
maybe not so complimentaryI suggested poems celebrating places, but can we enlarge that topic to poems about that may not be so celebratory. How about this one about my home town. Countee Cullen (1903-1946)
Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.
Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, "Nigger."
I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That's all that I remember.
I live about 5 miles from Leamington Spa, so have known this work by John Betjeman since childhood - don't actually think it's that great a poem, but the line 'Oh chintzy, chintzy cheeriness! Half dead and half alive' sums up Leamington for me - though the 'calm of a Leamington ev'ning' does not ring true...
Death in Leamington by John Betjeman
She died in the upstairs bedroom
By the light of the ev'ning star
That shone through the plate glass window
From over Leamington Spa
Beside her the lonely crochet
Lay patiently and unstirred,
But the fingers that would have work'd it
Were dead as the spoken word.
And Nurse came in with the tea-things
Breast high 'mid the stands and chairs-
But Nurse was alone with her own little soul,
And the things were alone with theirs.
She bolted the big round window,
She let the blinds unroll,
She set a match to the mantle,
She covered the fire with coal.
And "Tea!" she said in a tiny voice
"Wake up! It's nearly five"
Oh! Chintzy, chintzy cheeriness,
Half dead and half alive.
Do you know that the stucco is peeling?
Do you know that the heart will stop?
From those yellow Italianate arches
Do you hear the plaster drop?
Nurse looked at the silent bedstead,
At the gray, decaying face,
As the calm of a Leamington ev'ning
Drifted into the place.
She moved the table of bottles
Away from the bed to the wall;
And tiptoeing gently over the stairs
Turned down the gas in the hall.
Thanks, Evie, for the Betjeman. Do you know this sister poem by T.S. Eliot?
AUNT HELEN by T.S. Eliot
Miss Helen Slingsby was my maiden aunt,
And lived in a small house near a fashionable square
Cared for by servants to the number of four.
Now when she died there was silence in heaven
And silence at her end of the street.
The shutters were drawn and the undertaker wiped his feet -
He was aware that this sort of thing had occurred before.
The dogs were handsomely provided for,
But shortly afterwards the parrot died too.
The Dresden clock continued ticking on the mantlepiece,
And the footman sat upon the dining table
Holding the second housemaid on his knees -
Who had always been so careful while her mistress lived.
(Published in 'Prufrock' 1917)
Chib! I love McGonagall!
But that Cullen poem really bites.....
The observations in this poem can apply to any city or town in NZ in the past. The author is Kevin Ireland and it is from his 16th poetry book, AIRPORTS and other wasted days.
A Different Country
It was a different country then.
We wore jackets and ties,
Even to watch the footy.
Everyone had a nickname.
Big men were called Tiny.
Blonds were Snow or Sooty.
Women wore fox furs
with beads for eyes.
And they always put on hats.
in Queen Street often had galoshes
and sometimes spats.
Even workmen sported caps,
felts, bowlers and panamas.
Swanks went in for toppers.
We were Sunday racegoers,
and Friday-night shoppers.
Weekdays were for work
or school. There was a strict
time and date
for everything that happened –
except train arrivals,
which were always late.
Beer cost sixpence,
butter was one and six,
telephone calls were a penny.
No one went hungry,
and the needy few
were supported by the many –
provided they weren’t bludgers
or con-artists, In fact,
everything would have been fine
but for the measly morality
and the greyness, with every poor
bastard toeing the line.