London: A History in Verse
Harvard University Press (Inbooks), $49.95 pb, 745 pp, 9780674065680
For the poet W.S. Graham, running away from Scotland ‘with my money belt of Northern ice’ at the age of nineteen, London was the ‘golden city’ in his poem ‘The Night City’. Graham ‘found Eliot and he said yes // And sprang into a Holmes cab. / Boswell passed me in the fog / Going to visit Whistler who / Was with John Donne …’ For other poets in this anthology, London is a ‘noisome sewer’, as Cowper tells us in an extract from his long poem ‘The Task’. John Wilmot, earl of Rochester, after a night of wine and ‘grave discourse / Of who fucks who, and who does worse’, goes out into the cool of St James’s Park to find among the trees ‘nightly now beneath their shade / Are buggeries, rapes, and incests made’, and that there is a great congress of sexual activity of all walks of London life.