A Vision of Old London
Stepney 1890s
Through long straight streets, past weatherboarded stores
And disused pubs in mourning for their signs;
Past timber yards and harsh-browed tenements
Whose vague interiors disclose no life;
Through bright dishevelled squares and antique lanes
Where drunken windows, luminous with spring,
Hold men who rest their elbows on the sill
And monitor what’s happening below:
There, cloth-capped children trip on cobblestones,
Half-arsed attempts at birds regain their flight
And groups of beggars gather and disperse;
Past churches with their stark and patient spires,
Their helpless tombstones and their tinct of death;
Past brick-blunt clearings, lines of hansom cabs;
Past drinking fountains, street urinals, troughs
And down towards the jetties and the piers,
Each one end-on to absence, and from where
Unthought-out alleys struggle off inland
Or dart and thread between dull warehouse walls;
And then returning north, back through that world
Of random spats and random decencies,
Ornate unprivate lives which overhang
The poverty in courts and passageways,
Days spent at tender tangents to the real;
And noticing new details everywhere:
The stale-edged smells, the fresh-coined epithets,
The gentle repetition of the songs;
Returning now through slanted shafts of light
Beneath an unprotesting evening sky
You sense the near-forgotten core of things.

Ian Heffernan

If you have any thoughts on this poem,  Ian Heffernan
would be pleased to hear them.