Tag Archives: South Kensington

The Unquiet Street by John Gould Fletcher (1886-1950)

By day and night this street is not still;
Omnibuses with red tail lamps,
Taxi cabs with shiny eyes,
Rumble, shunning its ugliness.
It is corrugated with wheel ruts,
It is dented and pock-marked with traffic,
It has no time for sleep.
It heaves its old, scarred countenance
Skyward between the buildings
And never says a word
On rainy nights
It dully gleams
Like the cold tarnished scales of a snake:
And over it hang arc-lamps,
Blue-white death-lilies on black stems.

I found this poem in the Penguin Collection of Imagist Poetry. I like the cold, gleaming atmosphere of this poem with its feeling of early 20th Century Modernism.  The word omnibus seems of its time but is maybe just an Americanism. There is a feeling of Eliot’s empty lots and the vertical feeling of narrow streets. Restlessness and battered feelings are emphasised with corrugated and rumble and ruts, add onomatopoeiacally, to the wet and cold ambience of the poem. The visual images shine out in various colours.

There is an interesting essay at http://literarylondon.org/the-literary-london-journal/archive-of-the-literary-london-journal/issue-4-1/john-gould-fletchers-city-aesthetic-london-excursion/

For reasons I only partially understand, this poem brought to mind the area around South Kensington Tube station where I was once caught in very heavy rain. There used to be a cafe on the corner which I thought, wrongly it seems, there once was a Lyons corner house. Last year I sat instead in the pleasant settings of Muriels (which has an Antony Powell ring about it –https://www.murielskitchen.co.uk/

Notice that the old omnibus has now taken a different form and last August the area was filled with tourists consulting their mobile phones.