This book is for readers who are interested in English literature and history of London. The author Allison Lin not only explores some of the greatest poems written about London, from John Keats to Wendy Cope, from Tennyson to T.S. Eliot, but also interweaves their works into five themes: Love, History, Metropolis, Cultural Exchange, and Urbanity. This collection of poems brings English literature and history of London together, and making it an enriched reading experience that is full of witty and entertaining.
Chapter 1: Love
In this chapter, I read several literary texts, in order to demonstrate the relation between the viewing subject and the gazed object, in terms of love, illusion and and aesthetic ecstasy. Walter Benjamin’s untitled poem illuminates love and blessing through artistic images, as in Giorgio de Chirico’s painting, The Song of Love (1914). Love in London is somehow a dream-like image – a surreal illusion of love, which stays in the viewer’s mind as a poem of colours, representing eternity. Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day says it better, when Mary walks into the British Museum and gazes at the Elgin Marbles, thinking how much she is in love with Ralph. John Keats’ ‘On Seeing the Elgin Marbles’ also depicts the way in which a gaze of love could be an eternal moment of aesthetic ecstasy. Finally, Wendy Cope’s two London poems, ‘Lonely Hearts’ and ‘After the Lunch’, come to express how love is romantic, in a way which imagination, desire, and even disappointment can be a sentimental experience.
Love can be defined in various terms, in different conditions and contexts. When one is alone, love can be seen as a desire. To be alone with one’s self somehow is a perfect way to possess the loved object, as one can manipulate the love relation within one’s own mind, as the reader can see in Walter Benjamin’s note-like poem. In London, Virginia Woolf’s character Mary, in Night and Day, has her love secret unfolded when seeing the Elgin marbles in the British Museum. Through the gaze, Mary constructs a surreal situation, which goes beyond her present space and time, imaging Ralph as her guardian, who is able to love her in return. The same work of art, when in Keats’ poem, the reader can see that the whole experience of gazing at the Elgin marbles turns to be a sense of sympathizing love, for the mortality of one’s own physical being, and the limitation of its relation with the others.
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