Mary Robinson’s Poem “A London Summer Morning”

After finishing To the House of the Sun, a poem mostly reliant on translations of ancient poetry (and in some ways the book now feels like something I translated), I had to find my way back to English poetry. One way was through the Penguin anthologies of Renaissance, Metaphysical, Romantic and Victorian poetry. They included all the expected gems, as well as poets new to me. One was Mary Robinson (1758 – 1800):


A London Summer Morning

Who has not waked to list the busy sounds
Of summer’s morning in the sultry smoke
Of noisy London? On the pavement hot
The sooty chimney-boy, with dingy face
And tattered covering, shrilly hawks his trade,
Rousing the sleepy housemaid. At the door
The milk-pail rattles, and the tinkling bell
Proclaims the dustman’s office, while the street
Is lost in clouds impervious. Now begins
The din of hackney-coaches, wagons, carts;
While tin-men’s shops, and noisy trunk-makers,
Knife-grinders, coopers, squealing cork-cutters,
Fruit-barrows, and the hunger-giving cries
Of vegetable-vendors, fill the air.
Now every shop displays its varied trade,
And the fresh-sprinkled pavement cools the feet
Of early walkers. At the private door
The ruddy housemaid twirls the busy mop,
Annoying the smart ’prentice, or neat girl,
Tripping with band-box lightly. Now the sun
Darts burning splendour on the glittering pane,
Save where the canvas awning throws a shade
On the gay merchandise. Now, spruce and trim,
In shops where beauty smiles with industry,
Sits the smart damsel, while the passenger
Peeps through the window, watching every charm.
Now pastry dainties catch the eyes minute
Of hummy insects, while the slimy snare
Waits to enthral them. Now the lamp-lighter
Mounts the slight ladder, nimbly venturous,
To trim the half-filled lamps, while at his feet
The pot-boy yells discordant. All along
The sultry pavement, the old-clothes man cries
In tone monotonous, and sidelong views
The area for his traffic. Now the bag
Is slyly opened, and the half-worn suit
(Sometimes the pilfered treasure of the base
Domestic spoiler), for one half its worth,
Sinks in the green abyss. The porter now
Bears his huge load along the burning way,
And the poor poet wakes from busy dreams,
To paint the summer morning.