In the latest issue:

The American Virus

Eliot Weinberger

The Home Life of Inspector Maigret

John Lanchester

Story: ‘Have a Seat in the Big Black Chair’

Diane Williams

The Last Whale

Colin Burrow

In Beijing

Long Ling

Princess Margaret and Lady Anne

Rosemary Hill

At the Movies: ‘Arkansas’

Michael Wood

Ruin it your own way

Susan Pedersen

At Home

Jane Miller

The Ottoman Conundrum

Helen Pfeifer

Poem: ‘Muntjac’

Blake Morrison

Piketty’s Revolution

Geoff Mann

Short Cuts: In Tripoli

Jérôme Tubiana

Coetzee Makes a Leap

Christopher Tayler

At Auckland Castle: Francisco de Zurbarán

Nicola Jennings

Drain the Swamps

Steven Shapin

Diary: In the Isolation Room

Nicholas Spice

Close
Close

Year in, year out
The guide still follows
A well-paced route
Through those small rooms
Until the tour group
Have all been told
And told again
About the diarist,
About the poet,
Brother and sister,
Husband and wife;
So their plain life
Stays still
Green in the rain,
The stress
Less on fame
Than on wee mundane
Details:
How He once failed
To neatly ink His name
Inside the lid
Of His sole suitcase,
Though He did
Just
Find space
For that last aitch
North of the rest
Of wordswort
And hunched in the small
Window seats
You can hear
Repeated
Still
Year in, year out
How they strode off-road
Down gills, by crags
Over the hills,
Then nightly cleaned their teeth
With salted twigs
Dipped
In polishing soot
From the grate, the hearth,
And how The Great
Poet of the Heart
Walked and talked
And talked and talked
About his cuckoo clock;
How Mrs De Quincey tripped
With a bucket of coals;
How Coleridge called
Then later screamed,
Locked
In an upstairs room’s
Opium dream;
How when winter came
They skated on the lake,
William nicely
Getting his skates on
To slice
His zigzag initials
Precisely
As he whizzed
By on the ice;
How, through long nights,
They quizzed
Friends,
Lighting a candle’s rushlight
At both ends;
How, fond of good food
At his Edinburgh club,
Walter Scott thought
They downed too much porridge,
So sneaked out a window
To dine well at the pub;
How every five weeks
They washed their underclothes;
What the rent cost;
How frost
Made the children ill
And how those children slept
Cold, and no doubt wept
In their room upstairs
Above the downstairs chill
Of an underground stream
That streamed
More and more
Up through the floor
Of that slate-floored larder;
How Mary
Loved Point d’Angleterre lace;
And the whole place,
Dark now, was dark then,
Walls all smoke-blackened, reeking.
Think how
Year on year
At Grasmere
Each trained guide’s voice
Goes on speaking
These shining trivia
In one
Unbroken
Spoken
Song;
Until,
Before long,
Another
Voice starts
To master the art,
Comes to take over
The guiding,
Learning in order
Through just walking round:
The washstand’s lesson,
The step’s confession,
Each teacup’s balance,
Each lintel’s silence,
Each hinge of sound.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences