In an old dull yard near Camden Town,
Which echoes with the rattle of cars and ‘busses
And freight-trains, puffing steam and smoke and dirt
To the steaming, sooty sky—
There stands an old and grimy statue,
A statue of Psyche and her lover, Eros.
A little nearer Camden Town,
In a square of ugly sordid shops,
Is another statue, facing the Tube,
Staring with a heavy, purposeless glare
At the red and white shining tiles—
A tall stone statue of Cobden.
And though no one ever pauses to see
What hero it is that faces the Tube,
I can understand very well indeed
That England must honour its national heroes,
Must honour the hero of Free Trade—
Or was it the Corn Laws?—
That I can understand.
But what I shall never understand
Is the little group in the dingy yard
Under the dingier sky,
The Eros and Psyche—
Surrounded with pots and terra-cotta busts
And urns and broken pillars—
Eros, naked, with his wings stretched out
Just lighting down to kiss her on the lips.
What are they doing here in Camden Town
In the midst of all this clamour and filth?
They who should stand in a sun-lit room
Hung with deep purple, painted with gods,
Paved with white porphyry,
Stand for ever embraced
By the side of a rustling fountain
Over a marble basin
Carved with leopards and grapes and young men dancing;
Or in a garden leaning above Corinth,
Under the ilices and the cypresses,
Very white against a very blue sky;
Or growing hoary, if they must grow old,
With lichens and softly creeping moss.
What are they doing here in Camden Town?
And who has brought their naked beauty
And their young fresh lust to Camden Town,
Which settled long ago to toil and sweat and filth,
Forgetting—to the greater glory of Free Trade—
Young beauty and young love and youthful flesh?
Slowly the rain settles down on them,
Slowly the soot eats into them,
Slowly the stone grows greyer and dirtier,
Till in spite of his spreading wings
Her eyes have a rim of soot
Half an inch deep,
And his wings, the tall god’s wings,
That should be red and silver
Are ocherous brown.
And I peer from a ‘bus-top
As we splash through the grease and puddles,
And I glimpse them, huddled against the wall,
Half-hidden under a freight-train’s smoke,
And I see the limbs that a Greek slave cut
In some old Italian town,
I see them growing older
Companion art: “Eros and Psyche” by Alexander Kanevsky