Early start at Euston

euston
Anything to show more fair than an empty concourse?

Ok, Euston concourse is not Westminster Bridge but the quiet here at 07.00 am reminded me of   the Wordsworth poem.  By the time I’d got a coffee and taken my laptop out to start writing, the floor below had become twice as busy.

Of course, London of Wordsworth’s 1802, with a population of 1 million, was a very different city but even so,  it was big and noisy and full to him. I wondered, walking down from Highbury Fields to the tube, whether we appreciate quiet minutes in a big city more because we  know they will soon be gone.

Now I read the poem, it seems more about rest  than anything else, has the atmosphere of watching a sleeping child. A child, yes,  but perhaps a giant child:

Earth has 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 splendour, 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!

I say a giant child because of the size Wordsworth immediately makes me feel when he says this moment, this vision, is one which fits into the largest geographical size category: ‘Earth has not anything to show more fair’ is a huge comparison coming from a man of Hellvelyn who has crossed the Alps on foot. Earth? Earth?

But I wonder where the next lines come from?

Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:

Are there people passing by unmoved?  Was Wordsworth himself not looking at first? Has he rounded a corner and had his breath taken away?  Or like me entering Euston this morning – I’ve been here hundreds of times and if you say ‘Euston’ a very crowded, hot, uncomfortable, jostling, sometimes panicky scene/feeling enters my mind. So I came in this morning, up the elevator from the tube not thinking, expecting the norm, and suddenly, silence, breeze, space. I was dull of soul before that change stopped me in my tracks. The city  – ‘this city’, he actually writes, making it specific, present, all about us, turn, look, now! –

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.

It’s as if some lovely gauzy, light, silk scarf – ‘the beauty of the morning’ –  has been thrown over it, changing its appearance, and yet still showing the bone structure: ‘ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples’. What’s missing is the smoke – everything is ‘bright and glittering in the smokeless air’ –  that’s the norm, the usual garment, the smoke, the fogginess. Because I know other  poems of Wordsworth – and almost everyone who has heard of him will know he has some connection to the Lake District – I can’t help feel he is comparing what he sees now, to scenes he has experienced in the deep calm of the remote north country:

Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

I love the movement from outside scene to inside feeling, which seems to happen as soon as he talks about seeing – in fact, it’s as if he realises it’s not the seeing that  is affecting him.

 

Train due, time up. That was a moment of calm in a busy world.

 

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