The Metropolis

9 poems about London: one for each of your moods

Mike Pollitt | Wednesday 22 May, 2013 10:43

Do you ever find yourself wandering round the streets of London in a catatonic stupor, your heart bursting with feelings too intense to articulate, but too powerful to ignore?


Fortunately, more insightful, productive, and talented Londoners have gone before us, articulating their feelings with beautiful, apposite words, so that we don’t have to.

Here’s a poem about London for each of your moods.

Existential dread, such as you might feel commuting to and from a godforsaken office job every single fucking day

The Waste Land. By TS Eliot

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn.
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where St Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

Read the full poem
Image – London Bridge, 1927

Self-scaremongering, such as you might feel in your mid-thirties, the first time you read the Daily Mail unironically

London. By Samuel Johnson

Prepare for death, if here at night you roam
And sign your will before you sup from home.
Some fiery fop, with new commission vain,
Who sleeps on brambles till he kills his man;
Some frolic drunkard, reeling from a feast,
Provokes a broil, and stabs you for a jest.

Cruel with guilt, and daring with despair,
The midnight murderer bursts the faithless bar;
Invades the sacred hour of silent rest,
And leaves, unseen, a dagger in your breast.

Read the full poem
ImageJack the Ripper: The Nemesis of Neglect, from Punch, 1888

Joyful exhilaration, such as you might feel when the city presents you with an unexpected job offer, kiss, or free pint

Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802. By William Wordsworth

Earth hath not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendor, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Read more about the poem
ImageA View of Westminster Bridge by Daniel Turner

Fear, such as you might feel upon first moving to London and realising that there are no friends here, only drinking buddies

The Night City. By WS Graham

I ran down Gray’s Inn Road and ran
Till I was under a black bridge.
This was me at nineteen
Late at night arriving between
The buildings of the City of London

Between the big buildings
I sat like a flea crouched
In the stopped works of a watch.

Read the full poem
ImageThe Ghost of a Flea by William Blake

Smugness, such as you might feel after catching sight of yourself in the window of a Pret on a particularly good hair day

On the Queen’s repairing Somerset House 1668. By Abraham Cowley

And every day there passes by my side,
Up to its western reach, the London tide—
The spring tides of the term. My front looks down
On all the pride and business of the town;
My other fair and more majestic face
For ever gazes on itself below,
In the best mirror that the world can show.

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ImageThe Thames and the City of London from Richmond House, by Canaletto

A feeling that things aren’t right, but that you don’t know how to fix them, such as you might feel when avoiding a beggar’s eyes at a cashpoint

London, by William Blake

I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear

Read the full poem
Image – From Songs of Innocence by William Blake

Slack-jawed yokelism, such as you might feel when treating yourself to a day “being a tourist” in your own city

Descriptive Jottings of London. By William McGonagall

St. Paul’s Cathedral is the finest building that ever I did see;
There’s nothing can surpass it in the city of Dundee,
Because it’s most magnificent to behold
With its beautiful dome and spire glittering like gold.

And as for Nelson’s Monument that stands in Trafalgar Square,
It is a most stately monument I most solemnly declare,
And towering defiantly very high,
Which arrests strangers’ attention while passing by.

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ImageThe City from Bankside, Anonymous

Suburban angst, such as you might feel when you move to zone three and get a cat or a baby

In a London Drawingroom. By George Eliot

The sky is cloudy, yellowed by the smoke.
For view there are the houses opposite
Cutting the sky with one long line of wall
Like solid fog: far as the eye can stretch
Monotony of surface & of form
Without a break to hang a guess upon.

All hurry on & look upon the ground,
Or glance unmarking at the passers by
The wheels are hurrying too, cabs, carriages
All closed, in multiplied identity.

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ImageSitting Room, 7 Owen’s Row, Islington by Richard Parminter Cuff

Fevered loneliness, such as you might feel during a sleepless city night

A London Thoroughfare, 2 am. By Amy Lowell

Opposite my window,
The moon cuts,
Clear and round,
Through the plum-coloured night.
She cannot light the city;
It is too bright.
It has white lamps,
And glitters coldly.

I stand in the window and watch the moon.
She is thin and lustreless,
But I love her.
I know the moon,
And this is an alien city

Read the full poem
ImageNocturne: Battersea Bridge by James McNeill Whistler

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