Verse > Anthologies > Louis Untermeyer, ed. > Modern British Poetry
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Louis Untermeyer, ed. (1885–1977). Modern British Poetry.  1920.
 
Alfred Noyes. 1880–
 
117. The Barrel-Organ
 
THERE'S a barrel-organ carolling across a golden street 
  In the City as the sun sinks low; 
And the music's not immortal; but the world has made it sweet 
  And fulfilled it with the sunset glow; 
And it pulses through the pleasures of the City and the pain         5
  That surround the singing organ like a large eternal light; 
And they've given it a glory and a part to play again 
  In the Symphony that rules the day and night. 
  
And now it's marching onward through the realms of old romance, 
  And trolling out a fond familiar tune,  10
And now it's roaring cannon down to fight the King of France, 
  And now it's prattling softly to the moon. 
And all around the organ there's a sea without a shore 
  Of human joys and wonders and regrets; 
To remember and to recompense the music evermore  15
  For what the cold machinery forgets... 
  
Yes; as the music changes, 
  Like a prismatic glass, 
It takes the light and ranges 
  Through all the moods that pass;  20
Dissects the common carnival 
  Of passions and regrets, 
And gives the world a glimpse of all 
  The colours it forgets. 
  
And there La Traviata sighs  25
  Another sadder song; 
And there Il Trovatore cries 
  A tale of deeper wrong; 
And bolder knights to battle go 
  With sword and shield and lance,  30
Than ever here on earth below 
  Have whirled into—a dance!— 
  
Go down to Kew in lilac-time, in lilac-time, in lilac-time; 
  Go down to Kew in lilac-time (it isn't far from London!) 
And you shall wander hand in hand with love in summer's wonderland;  35
  Go down to Kew in lilac-time (it isn't far from London!) 
  
The cherry-trees are seas of bloom and soft perfume and sweet perfume, 
  The cherry-trees are seas of bloom (and oh, so near to London!) 
And there they say, when dawn is high and all the world's a blaze of sky 
  The cuckoo, though he's very shy, will sing a song for London.  40
  
The nightingale is rather rare and yet they say you'll hear him there 
  At Kew, at Kew in lilac-time (and oh, so near to London!) 
The linnet and the throstle, too, and after dark the long halloo 
  And golden-eyed tu-whit, tu-whoo of owls that ogle London. 
  
For Noah hardly knew a bird of any kind that isn't heard  45
  At Kew, at Kew in lilac-time (and oh, so near to London!) 
And when the rose begins to pout and all the chestnut spires are out 
  You'll hear the rest without a doubt, all chorusing for London:— 
  
Come down to Kew in lilac-time, in lilac-time, in lilac-time; 
  Come down to Kew in lilac-time (it isn't far from London!)  50
And you shall wander hand in hand with love in summer's wonderland; 
  Come down to Kew in lilac-time (is isn't far from London!) 
  
And then the troubadour begins to thrill the golden street, 
  In the city as the sun sinks low; 
And in all the gaudy busses there are scores of weary feet  55
Marking time, sweet time, with a dull mechanic beat, 
And a thousand hearts are plunging to a love they'll never meet, 
Through the meadows of the sunset, through the poppies and the wheat, 
  In the land where the dead dreams go. 
  
Verdi, Verdi, when you wrote Il Trovatore did you dream  60
  Of the City when the sun sinks low, 
Of the organ and the monkey and the many-coloured stream 
On the Piccadilly pavement, of the myriad eyes that seem 
To be litten for a moment with a wild Italian gleam 
As A che la morte parodies the world's eternal theme  65
  And pulses with the sunset-glow? 
  
There's a thief, perhaps, that listens with a face of frozen stone 
  In the City as the sun sinks low; 
There's a portly man of business with a balance of his own, 
There's a clerk and there's a butcher of a soft reposeful tone,  70
And they're all of them returning to the heavens they have known: 
They are crammed and jammed in busses and—they're each of them alone 
  In the land where the dead dreams go. 
  
There's a labourer that listens to the voices of the dead 
  In the City as the sun sinks low;  75
And his hand begins to tremble and his face is rather red 
As he sees a loafer watching him and—there he turns his head 
And stares into the sunset where his April love is fled, 
For he hears her softly singing and his lonely soul is led 
  Through the land where the dead dreams go...  80
  
There's a barrel-organ carolling across a golden street 
  In the City as the sun sinks low; 
Though the music's only Verdi there's a world to make it sweet 
Just as yonder yellow sunset where the earth and heaven meet 
Mellows all the sooty City! Hark, a hundred thousand feet  85
Are marching on to glory through the poppies and the wheat 
  In the land where the dead dreams go. 
  
        So it's Jeremiah, Jeremiah, 
          What have you to say 
        When you meet the garland girls  90
          Tripping on their way? 
        All around my gala hat 
          I wear a wreath of roses 
        (A long and lonely year it is 
          I've waited for the May!)  95
        If any one should ask you, 
          The reason why I wear it is— 
        My own love, my true love is coming home to-day. 
  
And it's buy a bunch of violets for the lady 
  (It's lilac-time in London; it's lilac-time in London!) 100
Buy a bunch of violets for the lady; 
  While the sky burns blue above: 
  
On the other side the street you'll find it shady 
  (It's lilac-time in London; it's lilac-time in London!) 
But buy a bunch of violets for the lady, 105
  And tell her she's your own true love. 
  
There's a barrel-organ carolling across a golden street 
  In the City as the sun sinks glittering and slow; 
And the music's not immortal; but the world has made it sweet 
And enriched it with the harmonies that make a song complete 110
In the deeper heavens of music where the night and morning meet, 
  As it dies into the sunset glow; 
  
And it pulses through the pleasures of the City and the pain 
  That surround the singing organ like a large eternal light, 
And they've given it a glory and a part to play again 115
  In the Symphony that rules the day and night. 
  
        And there, as the music changes, 
          The song runs round again; 
        Once more it turns and ranges 
          Through all its joy and pain: 120
        Dissects the common carnival 
          Of passions and regrets; 
        And the wheeling world remembers all 
          The wheeling song forgets. 
  
        Once more La Traviata sighs 125
          Another sadder song: 
        Once more Il Trovatore cries 
          A tale of deeper wrong; 
        Once more the knights to battle go 
          With sword and shield and lance 130
        Till once, once more, the shattered foe 
          Has whirled into—a dance! 
  
Come down to Kew in lilac-time, in lilac-time, in lilac-time; 
  Come down to Kew in lilac-time (it isn't far from London!) 
And you shall wander hand in hand with Love in summer's wonderland, 135
Come down to Kew in lilac-time (it isn't far from London!) 
 
 
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