A Monologue in Verse Concerning the Relationship between Visual and Literary Art
Step through the gates that face Great Russell Street,
This area of Bloomsbury where the Group
Would chat and sip, philosophise and eat:
‘The importance of the arts’ – and wine, and soup!
Or that’s how it might have been. But I don’t care:
It’s not for them I walk this road today.
I’m fired by a wild Romantic will,
A Keatsian wonder sends me on my way.
British Museum! Frieze above your pillars!
I ascend your steps and feel the hopes and fears
All those explorers, linguists, scholars – tillers
Of humanity’s great field of ideas –
Felt also; it’s like entering a world
Which reading has filled up with vital shades.
Rosetta Stone, Egyptian, Demotic, Greek,
Your language helps ensure that nothing fades,
But gains new meaning, lighting up new paths,
So now we know what those strange pictures mean.
And as I walk, as I paced the streets outside,
These stories make all minute details gleam.
Head still brim-full of Keats, I see the urns,
Those Grecian urns, and silently intone:
‘Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on.’
The room is empty, contemplation clicks
Along a little longer, then I turn,
Descending stairs to galleries anew,
With Nereids, carved heads, and still I learn –
Yet in a manner differently to reading,
While still inspired by literature – that life
In art takes many different forms, and needs
Many to paint, sculpt, sing its joys, its strife.
Childlike, just as I came here all those years
Ago, and walked, awestruck, small head upturned
At every moment, though I feel the years
As consciousness, as knowledge, now I pern
Around the central column Reading Room,
Which – I now know – Karl Marx often frequented.
I have to come again, sometime quite soon,
And see what else appears transformed, reflected.
For reflection’s what it is; picture a vase,
A statue, or a frieze, a portrait – all
Exist, reflections of the artist’s mind.
Yet when we see them, our mind’s mirror forms
Its own reflection, too. I thought of Keats’
Poetic looking glass, and I faced both
His mirror and the mirror of the art
Regarded by his mind, and felt I then
Like that great ‘watcher of the skies, when a
New planet swims into his ken’.
Oh florid hall of mirrors,
I must return to you again!