Love Song for England’s Death Knell

I have been down to the river, she said:
Around the way it comes to a head, and begins to froth
As ducks pick white bread from the banks;
It is quiet in places — if that you would believe—
Where the throngs subside, you may sit beside
The frothing, muddy stream, and contemplate
The love song of England’s death knell.
It is sung in voices we dare not hear, silence
Arcing and tumbling as a Roman candle,
Strapped with heretics. Dance with me, said she:
Come and see, there is a dove I like very much
With mangled stubs and cracked wing
And knobbly beak; its darting eyes can be much
Like the anxiety that rises as a tide — ebbing
Sometimes, but not often. Yet how often I have danced
In a tired trance amongst the artificial flowers
And stone giants, and pondered
The love song of England’s death knell.
It is whispered in distinct tones we all must face
When at last the last trace of the last glare of sun
Slinks beneath the final bridge. And the streets
Are piled with bodies. Colour matters no more:
For we are all just as dead in death. Just as encased
In quietude, she said. I know it isn’t a very original thought,
But it seems relevant whenever comes to mind
The love song of England’s death knell.
—I thought to interrupt then,
            but left the stranger to continue,
            wondering what words may next come.
It is like the fields of wheat, she smiled, picking
A sunflower seed from her teeth.
Reaped.
And then packaged and stored, and delivered
To be fused into plastics and oils.
Reaped:
With rotten scythe. With neutral hand.
It is what we deserve; what we have borne
Upon our slight and weary backs.
Upon the Styx it sticks, like blood and oil,
Like oily blood and bloody oil,
A rainbow of cement; when one is all and all is one,
There can be no fun, there can be nothing but
The love song of England’s death knell.
—I watched her eyes, quite grey themselves
            but with a sheen like clingfilm.
And I have been down to the streets, she said:
For stretches, it is as if the markets have all but died,
Gone away; it is as if the people have all left, as if
The smoke to breathe were not enough! And what joke
Is that, when there is plenty smog for all in the laughter of
The love song of England’s death knell.
Let us walk now, or would you chance a skip?
There are no penny farthings here, no skirts of low descent,
No shame now, yet no modesty either: no balance
In this city of burnt ends and sand-like dirt
That catches in your eye and shakes a wince
From your frowning brow. Tears not born of pain
Or pity, but a simple reaction of base biology. Acrimony
Is the common tongue. So would you dance with me? said she:
Or would you rather continue to slink
Like the beaten, trodden dog of the back-streets
Further and further into the cantos of
The love song of England’s death knell?
—I chanced a laugh. But what was there to laugh for?
            I knew this girl not,
            and yet she had always been there,
            I believe.
You spurn me, she said:
And who would not?
For truth is not lauded, no; there is no ascent here,
No joy,
And very little in the way of work. All has been done away.
A white-gloss colonnade with no forethought,
Lacking a catchy tune, and this hall, fretted with fault,
Becomes much more a vault — to store the notation of
The love song of England’s death knell,
Which now is less a song than a scream, a cry,
Like a great chorus in the sky — as a worm, crawling
To the surface for rain, to have a day of replenishment
And to seek a sightless friend, only to be met
By the rats of fatness and in countless number,
To be swallowed and chewed upon carelessly:
There is no order here, there is no happy chance chaos;
Anarchy without respite, and a hand that whips but does not feed.
So, go, said she: leave me, for we do not see eye to eye,
Nor mouth to ear, nor touch to touch; your hand is as a brush
Of bristly, cruel prickles upon my tender skin:
I will not let you in.
If you shall not dance, if you have no ears to hear,
Nor eyes for sight, nor kind flesh to rub,
Nor nose to smell the filth and roses,
Nor heart to sing, nor mind to think, nor breath
To turn to romance in the Autumn, then
What good are you to me? She said;
And if this is what you are to laugh at—
My idolisation of the land of William, of John, of Mary;
Of Elizabeth and Percy and Thomas and Polly—
Then, begone! she scowled with despight:
I shall myself dance alone upon the banks
Of England’s shore; I shall myself alone skip
Beyond the frothing, reeking mud and swollen rats,
Beyond the thrashing maw of the streetside vendors
And hassling whores and leering wretch-men,
Beyond the smog’s assail, the leman’s wail and beer’s lament,
And yes, beyond the cracked stone giants and plastic plants,
Beyond even your wicked smile and depressive wit,
To where the throngs at once subside: and I shall sit beside
This peaceful, sighing stream of mine,
Companioned by a knobbly, wounded dove:
And I alone shall descant
The love song of England’s death knell.

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