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The Lights of London -- Louise Imogen Guiney

(Poem #610) The Lights of London
 The evenfall, so slow on hills, hath shot
 Far down into the valley's cold extreme,
 Untimely midnight; spire and roof and stream
 Like fleeing spectres, shudder and are not.
 The Hampstead hollies, from their sylvan plot
 Yet cloudless, lean to watch as in a dream,
 From chaos climb with many a sudden gleam,
 London, one moment fallen and forgot.

 Her booths begin to flare; and gases bright
 Prick door and window; all her streets obscure
 Sparkle and swarm with nothing true or sure,
 Full as a marsh of mist and winking light;
 Heaven thickens over, Heaven that cannot cure
 Her tear by day, her fevered smile by night.
-- Louise Imogen Guiney
Note: From 'London: Twelve Sonnets'

Guiney's 'London: Twelve Sonnets' is (predictably enough) a series of a
dozen sonnets that present various snapshots of the city. Sadly, the
collection fails to synthesise into a unified whole; indeed, the various
poems end up sounding rather similar when read together, and are better off
considered in isolation.

Which is not to say that they aren't good poems - some of them are, some are
not. They just don't complement each other very well. Today's, for instance,
is one of the better ones - a nice depiction of evenfall over the city,
capturing both the smoothness and the suddenness of the transition into
night. The imagery is well-done but unremarkable; it is the last two lines
that bring the poem together. The image of the city wearing a 'fevered
smile' contrasts oddly with the 'marsh of mist and winking light' that the
rest of the poem has been building up, but in a constructive rather than a
dissonant sense, the twin faces melding into a richer, more complex picture.
(Ironically enough, just the thing that, on a larger scale, the various poems
failed to do).


Guiney, Louise Imogen

Louise Imogen Guiney.

  b. Jan. 7, 1861, Roxbury [now in Boston], Mass., U.S.
  d. Nov. 2, 1920, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, Eng.
  American poet and essayist, a popular and respected figure in the
  Boston literary circle of her day.

  Guiney was educated at Elmhurst, a convent school in Providence, Rhode
  Island. To help support her family she began contributing to various
  newspapers and magazines. Her poems, collected in Songs at the Start
  (1884) and The White Sail and Other Poems (1887), and her essays,
  collected in Goose Quill Papers (1885), soon attracted the attention of
  the Boston literary establishment, and the verse in A Roadside Harp
  (1893) and the essays in Monsieur Henri (1892), A Little English
  Gallery (1894), and Patrins (1897) brought her to the centre of
  aesthetic life in Boston. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Thomas Bailey Aldrich,
  Thomas W. Higginson, and Edmund Clarence Stedman were among her friends
  and patrons, and on visits to England in the 1890s she met Edmund
  Gosse, W.B. Yeats, and others. A walking tour of England with her
  friend Alice Brown in 1895 led to their collaboration on Robert Louis
  Stevenson--a Study (1895). Her own models in literature were chiefly
  William Hazlitt and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

  When, toward the end of the 1890s, her health and her muse both deserted
  her, Guiney turned to scholarship, concentrating mainly on the Cavalier
  poets (a group of mid-17th-century English gentlemen poets). From 1901 she
  lived happily in England. Her later books include England and Yesterday
  (1898), Martyr's Idyll and Shorter Poems (1899), Hurrell Froude (1904),
  Robert Emmet--His Rebellion and His Romance (1904), The Blessed Edmund
  Campion (1908), and Happy Ending (1909, revised 1927), her collected
  verse. Her unfinished anthology of Catholic poets from Sir Thomas More to
  Alexander Pope, prepared in collaboration with Geoffrey Bliss, was
  published as Recusant Poets in 1939.

        -- EB


Read all twelve sonnets at
('Fog' was the other one I liked).

Look up the related 'Songs of the City' theme:
poem #462
poem #464
poem #466


41 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Rory Gould said...

My maternal Great-Aunt. It is delightful to see her in "print" at this late date. Unmentioned, I believe, is the fact that she was employed as a postmistress for a time. One does what one must.

Barbara Yaple (Daughter of Eleanor Guiney)

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