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Saturday, 27 November 2010

Victorian Poetry for Christmas: Suspiria De Profundis by Robert Buchanan.

A thumb through the London Society yearbook of 1868 (a wonderful leather-bound tome with marble boards) threw up a few wintry Victorian pieces that I may share here over Christmas, along with this touching and tragic poem by Robert Buchanan, the Scottish poet. Not particularly Christmassy other than the presence of snow, but it conjures a wonderful image of two poor women out walking the streets in winter. I like it quite a lot:

By Robert Buchanan

To-Night there is no moon –
How dark and still the sky looks overhead!
I think that we shall have a snow-fall soon,
Walk quicker? Nelly Blair’s your name, you said?
Have you been long in London?

Thirteen days.
I hate it! hate the town, and all its ways!

And I! An ugly place! All bad, all bad!
Hardhearted as a flint, and dull and dark!
Drink is the only comfort to be had;
But drink gets me in trouble always. Hark!
That’s twelve o’clock. Let’s stop a minute, do!
Here, down this quiet street – there’s no one nigh –
Sit on my shawl – I live in Lambeth too,-
We can go home together by-and-by.
How bad your cough is! It will kill you quite
This being out at night.

Kill me? It’s Death who doesn’t hear me call –
‘Tis killing my ownself I fear to do!
If I’d the heart I’d leap off Waterloo
This night, and end it all.

Ah, how you cough! You’d best go home to bed!
Are you in pain? Rise up, and let us go!

O Lord! O Lord! I wish that I was dead!
Look how the air is whitening. It’s the Snow.
How white it looks, how still!

Lean on my arm a little. You are ill!

Come on, come on. How white the streets are growing!
I used to like the fields when it was snowing.
This minds me of old days, and all the fun –
That’s over now, and done –
I’ve seen my brightest days, and now I’m old –
Hark! There’s Saint Clement’s striking ‘one’ –
It’s cold! It’s cold!

Victorian poetry is not something I’ve ever delved into, other than that of Edgar Allen Poe when I was a bit younger, but I find the above piece rather touching.

As I said, more Victorian Christmas to follow closer to the season…


  1. Very touching poem. It reminds me that suicides became quite popular on Waterloo Bridge in the 1840's. I'm not sure why this location was and is often chosen, except that the beautiful view from it encompasses so much of London.

  2. Thanks Rosa,
    You're quite right that the most 'popular' (for want of a more appropriate word) bridge in London for suicides was Waterloo, and i'm sure I read somewhere once that in either the year 1840 or 1850, 30 people jumped from it to their death.

    Charles Knight (Who incidentally died in the town I used to live in, wrote compassionately on the subject in his great work 'London':

    "Remember with pain how many unfortunates have stood shivering in those very recesses, taking their last farewell of the world in which they had experienced so much misery. We have no idea, nor do we wish to have, of the entire extent of this dreadful evil, which has of late years given a new and most unhappy kind of celebrity to Waterloo Bridge, but the cases of accomplished and attempted suicide here must have been fearfully numerous."

    Thomas Hood's poem, 'The Bridge of Sighs' may also have contributed to the 'romance' of suicide by leaping from this particular bridge, too perhaps.