Literature, history, and beauty absolutely suffuse our city. Everywhere you look you’ll find striking architecture, gorgeous art, and a bustling life that couldn’t fail to inspire even those most plagued with writer’s block. It is a city that has inspired novels, given rise to films, provoked flurries of brushstrokes, and even roused chart-topping pop artists to profess their love for the city. (We’re looking at you Tay Tay.) And, yes, as you may have guessed from the heading, there is also a tremendous amount of poetry about London.
But to sift through it all would be an immense task. So we instead turned to our audience on Facebook to find out what they think are the best lines of poetry about London. And we couldn’t resist adding in a few of our own! Oh, and please spare us the snotty ‘a song isn’t a poem’ comments. What ever happened to poetic license?
So, without further ado – on with the odes. Here are the x loveliest lines of poetry written about London.
1. ‘Symphony in Yellow’ – Oscar Wilde
The yellow leaves begin to fade
And flutter from the temple elms,
And at my feet the pale green Thames
Lies like a rod of rippled jade.
2. ‘Harrow-on-the-Hill’ – John Betjeman
When melancholy Autumn comes to Wembley
And electric trains are lighted after tea
The poplars near the stadium are trembly
With their tap and tap and whispering to me…
3. ‘In Honour of the City of London’ – William Dunbar
London, thou art the flour of Cities all.
Gemme of all joy, jasper of jocunditie
4. ‘In This Light and on This Evening’ – the Editors
I swear to god I heard the earth inhale
Moments before it spat its rain down on me
I swear to god in this light and on this evening
London’s become the most beautiful thing I’ve seen.
5. ‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802’ – William Wordsworth
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
6. ‘The Waste Land’ – T.S. Eliot
The river sweats
oil and tar
the barges drift
with the turning tide
to leeward, swing on the heavy spar.
7. ‘Come Back to Camden’ – Morrissey
Where taxi drivers never stop talking
Under slate grey Victorian sky
Here you’ll find, my heart and I
And still we say come back
Come back to Camden
And I’ll be good, I’ll be good, I’ll be good, I’ll be good
8. ‘Ghosts In Deptford’ – Cicely Fox Smith
And loitering here and yonder, and jostling to and fro,
In every street and alley the sailor-folk would go,
All colours, creeds, and nations, in fashion old and new,
If ghosts should walk in Deptford, as like enough they do.
9. ‘London’ – William Blake
I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
10. ‘London’s Brilliant Parade’ – Elvis Costello
I’m having the time of my life
Or something quite like it
When I’m walking out and about
In London’s brilliant parade.
11. ‘Contemplating Hell’ – Bertolt Brecht
Contemplating Hell, as I once heard it,
My brother Shelley found it to be a place
Much like the city of London.
12. ‘ill Manors’ – Plan B
We’ve had it with you politicians
You bloody rich kids never listen
There’s no such thing as broken Britain
We’re just bloody broke in Britain
What needs fixing is the system
Not shop windows down in Brixton
Riots on the television
You can’t put us all in prison!
13. ‘A Ballad of London’ – Richard Le Gallienne
The human moths about the light
Dash and cling close in dazed delight,
And burn and laugh, the world and wife,
For this is London, this is life!
14. ‘A London Plane-Tree’ – Amy Levy
Among her branches, in and out,
The city breezes play;
The dun fog wraps her round about;
Above, the smoke curls grey.
15. ‘Streets of London’ – Ralph McTell
So how can you tell me you’re lonely,
And say for you that the sun don’t shine?
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London
I’ll show you something to make you change your mind
16. ‘Like A Beacon’ – Grace Nichols
every now and then
I get this craving
for my mother’s food
I leave art galleries
in search of plantains
I need this link
I need this touch
swinging my bag
like a beacon
against the cold
(Okay, so it’s the whole poem, not lines from the poem – but isn’t it gorgeous?)
17. ‘London Boys’ – David Bowie
A London boy, oh a London boy
Your flashy clothes are your pride and joy
A London boy, a London boy
You’re crying out loud that you’re a London boy
18. ‘In a London Drawingroom’ – George Eliot
The sky is cloudy, yellowed by the smoke.
For view there are the houses opposite
Cutting the sky with one long line of wall
Like solid fog: far as the eye can stretch
Monotony of surface & of form
Without a break to hang a guess upon.
19. ‘A London Thoroughfare. 2 A.M.’ – Amy Lowell
I stand in the window and watch the moon.
She is thin and lustreless,
But I love her.
I know the moon,
And this is an alien city.
And, because we simply had to include it…
20. ‘London Boy’ – Taylor Swift
I love my hometown as much as Motown, I love SoCal
And you know I love Springsteen, faded blue jeans, Tennessee whiskey
But something happened, I heard him laughing
I saw the dimples first and then I heard the accent
They say home is where the heart is
But that’s not where mine lives.
So, there you have it. Some of the most lyrical, the most lovely, and the most lasting lines of poetry about London. Don’t you feel all warm and fuzzy inside now? We’re lucky to be Londoners, that’s for sure.