Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday Poetry - Mary Robinson

As summer shows no sign of moving on, I've chosen a poem about summer this week. Mary Robinson was an actress, famous for being the mistress of the Prince of Wales, later George IV. She was also known as Perdita, the role she was playing when she caught the Prince's eye. Like Jane Austen, I dislike the Prince & think he was self-indulgent, spoilt & treated women very badly. There have been at least two biographies of Mary that I'm aware of & she seems to have had a short, sad life. However, I wasn't aware that she was a poet until I came across A London Summer Morning in my anthology of Romantic poetry. It's a lively portrait of late 18th century London. Housemaids beginning their work, chimney boys, knife-grinders, shopkeepers getting ready to start the day's trade & the lamp lighter ending his work until the night.

Who has not waked to list the busy sounds
Of summer’s morning, in the sultry smoke
Of noisy London? On the pavement hot
The sooty chimney-boy, with dingy face
And tattered covering, shrilly bawls his trade,
Rousing the sleepy housemaid. At the door
The milk-pail rattles, and the tinkling bell
Proclaims the dustman’s office; while the street
Is lost in clouds impervious. Now begins
The din of hackney-coaches, waggons, carts;
While tinmen’s shops, and noisy trunk-makers,
Knife-grinders, coopers, squeaking cork-cutters,
Fruit-barrows, and the hunger-giving cries
Of vegetable-vendors, fill the air.
Now every shop displays its varied trade,
And the fresh-sprinkled pavement cools the feet
Of early walkers. At the private door
The ruddy housemaid twirls the busy mop,
Annoying the smart ’prentice, or neat girl,
Tripping with band-box lightly. Now the sun
Darts burning splendor on the glittering pane,
Save where the canvas awning throws a shade
On the gay merchandise. Now, spruce and trim,
In shops (where beauty smiles with industry)
Sits the smart damsel; while the passenger
Peeps through the window, watching every charm.
Now pastry dainties catch the eye minute
Of hummy insects, while the limy snare
Waits to enthrall them. Now the lamp-lighter
Mounts the tall ladder, nimbly venturous,
To trim the half-filled lamps, while at his feet
The pot-boy yells discordant! All along
The sultry pavement, the old-clothes-man cries
In tone monotonous, while sidelong views
The area for his traffic: now the bag
Is slyly opened, and the half-worn suit
(Sometimes the pilfered treasure of the base
Domestic spoiler), for one half its worth,
Sinks in the green abyss. The porter now
Bears his huge load along the burning way;
And the poor poet wakes from busy dreams,
To paint the summer morning.


  1. I don't think it would be classed as a great poetry, but it conjures up a very vivid picture of the sights and sounds of a busy London street in the early morning. I wonder if Lionel Bart had read it and whether that gave him the idea for 'Who Will Buy' in 'Oliver'?

    1. I think it's interesting that MR was an actress but she could obviously turn her hand to anything that helped her make a living. It's not great poetry but interesting to see her work in an anthology all the same. It is reminiscent of the song from Oliver, isn't it?