If you’re moving to London and have only recently started following our blog here, it’s been a while since I’ve posted poetry about London—not anything I’ve written myself, of course, but insights into the city of others who have lived or visited here. I had started doing this a while back simply because it fascinates me to experience different perspectives of the same place, how the city of London has changed or remained the same throughout time, and how it’s come to influence artists through different mediums (hm…perhaps I should start posting London-inspired paintings and such now and then as well). In any case, you can see London poems posted under our “London Literacy” category, and today I bring you one from the very beginning of the 19th century:
IN LONDON, SEPTEMBER 1802 – William Wordsworth
O Friend! I know not which way I must look
For comfort, being, as I am, opprest,
To think that now our life is only drest
For show; mean handy-work of craftsman, cook,
Or groom!—We must run glittering like a brook
In the open sunshine, or we are unblest:
The wealthiest man among us is the best:
No grandeur now in nature or in book
Delights us. Rapine, avarice, expense,
This is idolatry; and these we adore:
Plain living and high thinking are no more:
The homely beauty of the good old cause
Is gone; our peace, our fearful innocence,
And pure religion breathing household laws.
Not the most optimistic view, that’s for certain, but an honest one. Wordsworth wrote this amid a time of concern about the increasing materialism of England’s affluent citizenry. Surely we can see how this applies to modern society as well as we see how much people are still impressed by worldly goods, the “glittering” bling of jewelry, fashion, cars, and so forth, estimating each other’s worth by the value of our possessions. These days when one is living in a flat that was once but one floor of an entire house, we see the space that people could afford back then—cost of living is all relative, of course, when you’re comparing against a century or two ago, which makes it especially staggering when you find houses like those in The Boltons in west London that are still intact as single-family homes! As I walk the sidewalks and see a ridiculous number of luxury cars parked right on the streets, I’m always wondering who the heck can afford that and live in London!
Money doesn’t go as far in an expensive city like this one, yet you’ll see those of varying points along the economic spectrum living side by side. It isn’t everyone who moves here who can afford the homes in Mayfair worth millions or buy up neighboring houses to live in one super-sized home like the celebrities (*ahem* Gwyneth Paltrow & Chris Martin in Belsize Park *cough*)…or for that matter even afford a mews house that once stabled horses and coaches (the “handy-work of craftsman… / Or groom!”).
But how I’ve come to regard my expat life is that this is my experiential stage in life—it’s not about the big house and huge closets of clothing (good luck finding that in a London apartment!), or being able to pack all your worldly goods for the moving company to ship across the ocean. No sir, it’s about learning so easily what you can truly do without and just absorbing the culture, history, and natural pleasures to be had here—to delight again in that “grandeur now in nature or in book,” and find ourselves by finding meaning in “Plain living and high thinking,” and “The homely beauty of the good old cause” as travels and encounters within a diverse milieu break us out of our comfort zones and challenge our beliefs. Just some thoughts to ponder as you prepare to relocate to London and get adjusted to all the material stuff that perhaps you can’t bring and won’t care to find here.