London, This Alien City

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It seems both odd and entirely apt that when I think of London poems the two lines that spring most readily to mind are the Scotsman William Dunbar's 'London thou art the flower of cities all' and the Lakelander William Wordsworth's 'Earth has not anything to show more fair.' This is a city where people constantly arrive, constantly leave, and just as constantly stay. Of course, we have our home-grown bards as well. Another William, William Blake, was born less than a mile from where I'm sitting. And Chaucer, for all that his tales range far and wide across the continent of Europe, was a Londoner through and through. But many of the most evocative descriptions of the city have been written by visitors, transients, migrants and aliens. If Westminster Bridge makes me think of Wordsworth, then I can't help muttering a line of Eliot when I cross London Bridge: 'I had not thought death had undone so many.' Perhaps the last word though should go to our native 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.

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