this too
Friday, March 04, 2005
  Orpheus in the underpass

It was tempting fate to say I wanted to look up and note the good things, make my peace a little with my surroundings. Wednesday evening brought relentless diagonal curtains of what one of my blogging heroes called snizzle (; battered people, heads down, colliding damply.

I took refuge in the underpass, and straight away felt more alive because there, carved all along the smelly wall from Waterloo Station to Waterloo Bridge, is the poem, Eurydice – public art which works, for once, miraculously well.

I am not afraid as I descend,
step by step, leaving behind the salt wind
blowing up the corrugated river,

My eyes meet those of the young homeless man and his dog, ensconced in their grimy bedding right below these lines.

the damp city streets, their sodium glare
of rush-hour headlights pitted with pearls of rain;
for my eyes still reflect the half remembered moon

Why does the underpass look flat but feel like walking up a long hill?

This path unravels.
Deep in hidden rooms filled with dust
and sour night-breath the lost city is sleeping

When I first saw the poem, I would read it each time I trudged past, muttering it over to myself until I had most of it by heart, the damp walls dissolving into story, blank routine into imagination.

Soon, soon I will climb
from this blackened earth
into the diffident light

and up onto the bridge, wide views of the Thames.

The whole poem, by Sue Hubbard is at:

Here’s a much more atmospheric photo (but the photographer apparently didn’t notice it was a poem):
and here, in the impressive photo blog, Curiously Incongruous, are some pictures of what lies at either end of the underpass:
I don't remember seeing this wonderful poem any time I was in London, but I do remember the poems in the sidewalk on the southern side of the Thames Embankment, and being astounded when I discovered them. I tend to love public, but so little of it is LITERARY publoic art. I'm glad to hear about this example and that it cheered you is reason enough for its existence.
Jean: Thank you for the link to the complete poem - beautiful. I know the underpass and like the way you illustrate your passage through with the poem excerpts and your own thoughts. What a huge difference having the poetry there makes to an otherwise deeply uninspiring public area .....
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Freelance copy-editor and translator. Keen on language, literature, photography, art, music, buddhist meditation and the countryside.

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