Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > England
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
England: Vols. I–IV.  1876–79.
 
London
London
William Wordsworth (1770–1850)
 
From “The Prelude

THERE was a time when whatsoe’er is feigned
Of airy palaces, and gardens built
By Genii of romance; or hath in grave
Authentic history been set forth of Rome,
Alcairo, Babylon, or Persepolis;        5
Or given upon report by pilgrim friars,
Of golden cities ten months’ journey deep
Among Tartarian wilds,—fell short, far short,
Of what my fond simplicity believed
And thought of London,—held me by a chain        10
Less strong of wonder and obscure delight.
Whether the bolt of childhood’s fancy shot
For me beyond its ordinary mark,
’T were vain to ask; but in our flock of boys
Was one, a cripple from his birth, whom chance        15
Summoned from school to London: fortunate
And envied traveller! When the boy returned,
After short absence, curiously I scanned
His mien and person, nor was free, in sooth,
From disappointment, not to find some change        20
In look and air, from that new region brought,
As if from Fairy-land. Much I questioned him;
And every word he uttered on my ears
Fell flatter than a cagéd parrot’s note,
That answers unexpectedly awry,        25
And mocks the prompter’s listening. Marvellous things
Had vanity (quick spirit that appears
Almost as deeply seated and as strong
In a child’s heart as fear itself) conceived
For my enjoyment. Would that I could now        30
Recall what then I pictured to myself
Of mitred prelates, lords in ermine clad,
The King and the King’s palace, and, not last,
Nor least, Heaven bless him! the renowned Lord Mayor:
Dreams not unlike to those which once begat        35
A change of purpose in young Whittington,
When he, a friendless and a drooping boy,
Sat on a stone, and heard the bells speak out
Articulate music. Above all, one thought
Baffled my understanding: how men lived        40
Even next-door neighbors, as we say, yet still
Strangers, not knowing each the other’s name.
 
  O wondrous power of words, by simple faith
Licensed to take the meaning that we love!
Vauxhall and Ranelagh! I then had heard        45
Of your green groves, and wilderness of lamps
Dimming the stars, and fireworks magical,
And gorgeous ladies, under splendid domes,
Floating in dance, or warbling high in air
The songs of spirits! Nor had Fancy fed        50
With less delight upon that other class
Of marvels, broad-day wonders permanent:
The river proudly bridged; the dizzy top
And Whispering Gallery of St. Paul’s; the tombs
Of Westminster; the giants of Guildhall;        55
Bedlam, and those carved maniacs at the gates,
Perpetually recumbent; statues—man,
And the horse under him—in gilded pomp
Adorning flowery gardens, mid vast squares;
The Monument, and that Chamber of the Tower        60
Where England’s sovereigns sit in long array,
Their steeds bestriding,—every mimic shape
Cased in the gleaming mail the monarch wore,
Whether for gorgeous tournament addressed,
Or life or death upon the battle-field.        65
Those bold imaginations in due time
Had vanished, leaving others in their stead:
And now I looked upon the living scene;
Familiarly perused it; oftentimes,
In spite of strongest disappointment, pleased        70
Through courteous self-submission, as a tax
Paid to the object by prescriptive right.
 
  Ries, up thou monstrous ant-hill on the plain
Of a too busy world! Before me flow,
Thou endless stream of men and moving things!        75
Thy every-day appearance, as it strikes—
With wonder heightened, or sublimed by awe—
On strangers of all ages; the quick dance
Of colors, lights, and forms; the deafening din;
The comers and the goers face to face,        80
Face after face; the string of dazzling wares,
Shop after shop, with symbols, blazoned names,
And all the tradesman’s honors overhead:
Here fronts of houses, like a title-page,
With letters huge inscribed from top to toe,        85
Stationed above the door, like guardian saints;
There, allegoric shapes, female or male,
Or physiognomies of real men,
Land-warriors, kings, or admirals of the sea,
Boyle, Shakespeare, Newton, or the attractive head        90
Of some quack-doctor, famous in his day.
 
  Meanwhile the roar continues, till at length,
Escaped as from an enemy, we turn
Abruptly into some sequestered nook,
Still as a sheltered place when winds blow loud!        95
At leisure, thence, through tracts of thin resort,
And sights and sounds that come at intervals,
We take our way. A raree-show is here,
With children gathered round; another street
Presents a company of dancing dogs,        100
Or dromedary, with an antic pair
Of monkeys on his back; a minstrel band
Of Savoyards; or, single and alone,
An English ballad-singer. Private courts,
Gloomy as coffins, and unsightly lanes        105
Thrilled by some female vender’s scream, belike
The very shrillest of all London cries,
May then entangle our impatient steps;
Conducted through those labyrinths, unawares,
To privileged regions and inviolate,        110
Where from their airy lodges studious lawyers
Look out on waters, walks, and gardens green.
 
  Thence back into the throng, until we reach,
Following the tide that slackens by degrees,
Some half-frequented scene, where wider streets        115
Bring straggling breezes of suburban air.
Here files of ballads dangle from dead walls;
Advertisements, of giant size, from high
Press forward, in all colors, on the sight;
These, bold in conscious merit, lower down;        120
That, fronted with a most imposing word,
Is, peradventure, one in masquerade.
As on the broadening causeway we advance,
Behold, turned upwards, a face hard and strong
In lineaments, and red with over-toil.        125
’T is one encountered here and everywhere;
A travelling cripple, by the trunk cut short,
And stumping on his arms. In sailor’s garb
Another lies at length, beside a range
Of well-formed characters, with chalk inscribed        130
Upon the smooth flat stones: the nurse is here,
The bachelor, that loves to sun himself,
The military idler, and the dame,
That field-ward takes her walk with decent steps.
 
  Now homeward through the thickening hubbub, where        135
See, among less distinguishable shapes,
The begging scavenger, with hat in hand;
The Italian, as he thrids his way with care,
Steadying, far-seen, a frame of images
Upon his head; with basket at his breast,        140
The Jew; the stately and slow-moving Turk,
With freight of slippers piled beneath his arm!
 
  Enough;—the mighty concourse I surveyed
With no unthinking mind, well pleased to note
Among the crowd all specimens of man,        145
Through all the colors which the sun bestows,
And every character of form and face:
The Swede, the Russian; from the genial South,
The Frenchman and the Spaniard; from remote
America the hunter-Indian; Moors,        150
Malays, Lascars, the Tartar, the Chinese,
And negro ladies in white muslin gowns.
 
 
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