One day, when ‘Poems From The Underground caught my eye, a question came into my head.
Surely it wasn’t just the underground. There must have been other, lest famous, instances of poems in the wild. Have you, ever seen anything, I wonder?
And today I found a poem that made me ask another question. What about buses? I rarely used buses in central London, but I did around and about Harrow, where I lived for quite a few years. I don’t remember seeing anything so interesting on a bus, but maybe that was me not paying attention, or too busy reading.
That poem was by Sheila Kaye-Smith. I knew she wrote novels set in the Suffolk countryside she loved, I knew she wrote about Jane Austen, I knew she wrote about books, but I hadn’t noticed she has published poetry and I didn’t know she’d spent much time in London.
This poem dates from the days when buses looked like this.
It’s a little bit dated, and I don’t think her verse is of the same quality as her prose, but it took me back to London and I do rather like it. See what you think.
The Ballad of a Motor ‘Bus by Sheila Kaye-Smith
You get in at Ludgate Circus,
Where in regiments they stand,
All throbbing underneath the bridge,
And pointing to the Strand
All pageantry with colours,
All poetry with words,
Wait those blazoned motor-‘buses
In their fiercely panting herds.
There are ‘buses for the East,
There are ‘buses for the West,
For North and South and Central
And where heaven pleases best
For the Elephant and Castle,
Gospel Oak and Parson’s Green,
Some for Chelsea, some for Putney,
Some for Barnes, and some for Sheen,
There are some that cross the river,
And they see the steamers crawl
With dirty belching smoke-stacks
To the Pool or London Wall
They rumble down the dingy streets
Where dingy houses grow
Like quickly sprouting toadstools
In an evil yellow row.
And some go plunging northward
Up the hills to Kensal Rise,
And some are bound for Hampstead
And the smokeless windy skies,
And some go east to Hackney,
And the long Commercial Road,
Past the buying and the selling,
To poverty’s abode.
But the ‘bus I take goes westward
It leaves Charing Cross behind,
Then it bounds up Piccadilly,
Through the smokey dusty wind
The first lamps have been lighted,
And across St James’s Park
The early lights of Westminster
Are splashing on the dark.
The dusk is falling gently,
And from the streets below
The London glare climbs upward
To make the sad skies glow
Through the mingled dusk and dazzle
We hum swiftly on our way,
While the wind brings to our faces
The first damps of the day.
It is Summer, it is evening,
Early stars are in the sky,
Shining dim above the smoke-wreaths,
While the western bonfires die
And the wind sings of the river
That beyond the city flows,
Of the pleasant westward reaches
That no cargo-tramper knows.
So we spin through holy Brompton,
We leave Kensington behind,
We thunder down to Fulham,
Past churches tall and blind
Till we come at last to Putney,
And the starlit river gleams
Through darkness up to Richmond,
A thoroughfare of dreams.
And it’s there that you are waiting,
O my faithful love, for me !
Through the dark your eyes are straining
My chariot to see
For the working-day is over,
All its dust and hurry past,
And we go to the river,
With my hand in yours at last.
While the motor-‘bus rolls onward
And we stop to watch it tear
All burning through the twilight,
Mysterious and fair.
It was our love’s bright chariot,
The torch of our desires,
Kindling the London darkness
With youth’s eternal fires.
O youth ! O youth in London !
Shall they ever be forgot.
Those young and eager footsteps
On pavements hard and hot ?
The dust is in the breezes,
Stinks of petrol stain the air,
But youth has come to London,
And has found a garden there.