Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Stone Poetry

'Due to a signal failure at Liverpool Street, there are severe delays on the Central Line. Passengers are advised to seek an alternative route...'

I'm immediately into the London commuters' default mode: one third alert to further announcements, one third calculating alternatives, one third drawing on reserves of patience and fortitude. You'd go nuts otherwise.

Soon, having detrained at Bank, I'm waiting for a 25 bus in Cornhill and taking in the scenery: poetry in grey stone, soaring over the hubbub of office workers hurrying into Pret-a-Manger. Coleridge spent a lot of time figuring how to get here - not to Cornhill, of course but to this state of heightened perception. He should have tried London Transport.

I'm not really commuting, thank goodness. I'm on my way to a lecture on music and film near Chancery Lane. It starts at 1pm and it's already 12.30pm. Bank station is very confusing.

The third Lord Burlington spent a fortune 'Palladianising' his main residence after the Grand Tour, more or less de rigeur for eighteenth century aristocrats. He wasn't to know that a few centuries later anyone could walk into the courtyard off Piccadilly and admire the facade it it cost him hundred of thousands to construct. Not to mention the gilded ceilings with their scenes from the classics. Anyone can go in for free. It's the same story all over London.

Thoughts about the effects of grand architecture were prompted by a talk at the Royal Academy last week, as well as a chapter on statues in a book by a Chinese artist visiting London in the 1930s.

As I admire the Bank of England' decorated pediment and the three statues I can see from the bus stop, I recall a baritone I sometimes hear intoning on Radio 4 :

'I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.'

Don't get me wrong, I'm as fond of a nice tree as the next person, but for inspiration I prefer something hand-crafted in grey stone, that doesn't shed its leaves every Winter.

Joyce Kilmer's Tree Poem:

The Chinese traveller in London:

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