London in the late 16th century

London in Sir Walter Raleigh's Time

from Death of a Fox by George Garrett

He (Walter Raleigh) is hungry to see and to feast upon this banquet--Jerusalem or Babel and Babylon--of London awakened and coming to life.

City of sturdy wall, of stout gates, narrow streets, and long memories. Ever changing and rearranging, repairing and razing, ripping and tearing down, with license and abandon, to build out of your ruins and rubble anew. Spading up the skulls and old coins and broken shards to make room for more.

With all your history, untroubled by memory. Unhaunted by the savage ghosts of old men who wish you no joy. Believing you shall bloom and prosper with or without them.

Bubbling, fermenting, all yeasty, cloudy as strong ale,

Bursting at sleeves and button points with press of people. Multitude which even plague cannot conquer.

Filling and spilling over the wall and across the ditch. Overflowing like your countless wells and springs (some clear and clean, some foul as streams of hell) to spread in a slow tide ever outward into fields, suburbs, and villages.

Slow, sure, with timber and brick and stone, mortar and plaster, with conduit and cobblestone, seizing and choking the last life of the fields and spaces within and without the walls.

But your half-hidden gardens are splendid. Your trees, now bloody or minted in autumn gold, stand high and tall. In April and early May they toss fair heads of brightest green. Cast ponds and pools of shade in midsummer.

Slow, sure, houses growing taller over narrow, thronged, clamorous streets, as if to join hands and shut out the sky. Like the old houses of merchants up on London Bridge.

Noisy, bustling, crying, laughing, boldest city in the world. Proud of your savage music. Deafening noise of thousands of voices speaking all at once, from the muttering of lawyers at St. Paul's to the hundred musical cries of the street vendors. Cartwheels straining, crying for grease. Carriages nudging for space. Crack of whip and shouts to make way. Clatter of hooves, ringing of bells, clear ring of hammer, song of saws. Bells and the cling and clang of coins like a multitude of little bells.

Rude and clamorous beyond believing. Rich and busy beyond believing too.

A strange many-colored flower, but flower of English towns. Let others bloom and prosper, dry and wither, London is blooming, ever growing. Foremost of cities, set down in glory and beauty beside and now astride the still clear-Rowing waters of the Thames with its snowflake clusters of swans proudlg· riding.

Phoenix of cities, forever consuming itself in fire and energy, forever from ashes rising again, newborn. Even before the ashes cool. London the largest and finest jewel in the Crown. yet unpolished, uncut, flawed, as if rudely ripped from bowels of earth. And still, all that said, Shining always and always more precious than perfect stones. Its fire not a gift of art and stolen light, but the glow cast by an excess of inner burning. Not a diamond, but what the diamond aspires to be: a thing made of light as if light were frozen.

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