Thursday, 8 October 2015

This is the House the Word Built

This is the house the word built

And the word was with God and was God
    and the word was the house where the priest was,
      where the friars, the abbey, the earth and the river,
         the town and the sea and the sky was - 
           where the river reflected the town and the sky
               and the house the word built.

This is the rich man who built his house where the word was, 
   his hall-house, his passage, his arch and his doorway, 
      his windows, his attic, his fireplace and screen-wall,
          all in the house the word built.

This is the house the word built.

This is the smokehouse, the fish, the wherry and staithe
   behind the house the word built,
      the staithe that was built on sea and sky and river and music
         in the town with the house the word built.

This is the trading hall, this the undercroft,
   these are the dragons, the witches, the roofbeams,
      the house of the treasurer, the property of the businessman
         the house of the mayor and mayor again
            that was built with the money and fabric
               the word built.

This is the house the word built.

And this is the property - the valuable rentland the trade-hall became
   when the trader-the mayor-the businessman died
      and sold it for the sake of his soul that he might ~
         not be bound too long in purgatory
            in the house the word built

And this is the slow descent into poverty - into multiplication -
   into tenements and foul yards - into cottage and labour -
      into industry and intimacy - into river and sky -
         into shoes into dresses into vests into brickstacks -
            into one-hundred-and sixty five adults and children
                in the grounds of the house the word built.

This is the house the word built.

And here’s the first pub, The Three Merry Wherrymen - and here The Old Barge ~
   with its boozers and braggers, its buxom and ballocky, its bread and its bacon,
      like all the great barges or ships of dead fools whom God the great word 
        sént on their way into broad bucking waves ~
           of the night with the scurvy, the syphilis, the TB, the ague
             all brewed in the house the word built.

Here’s Agnes Palmer aged ten in mid-century, still here at eighty in 1911
   and here’s her dead father, and brothers: William, Samuel, Ellis, Edmund & John,
     and here are the rags for rag-pickers, and here are the women waiting in doorways 
         in the house the word built.

This is the house the word built.

And here are the poor - stumbling dead-drunk down the alley - 
  here’s crowds for the football, shopkeepers, bulldozers, slumclearers, developers, 
     the Old Barge still floating~down the river of the word, into Dragon Hall -    
         the city all changes, surviving in squares and streets 
            and houses the word built.

And this is the art that we live in and walk on and breathe in and pass through,
   these are the doors of the word, and the words that pass through them, 
      this is our barge and our wherry and staithe and the words that we owe  ~
         to those who first spoke them, since that is what art is,
             the speaking of the house, the listening of the house ~
                to the voice of the house that’s the voice of the river,
                   the sky, the sea, the music, the town ~
                      of the house that we live in,
                         the house the word built.

This is the house the word built.

*This celebratory poem was commissioned by Writers Centre Norwich and read on National Poetry Day for the official handover of Dragon Hall to WCN
The historical background was provided by Richard Matthew. The poem traces the history of the original site through its buildings but chiefly the people who inhabited them, from the Church through to business in the 16th and 17th centuries, to a slum, to a pub, and into the present. The italicised lines were said by the audience.


mamasan said...

beautiful ...

Poetry Pleases! said...

Dear George

Fine poem. It doesn't sound as though it was written recently. As I write this, my sister and her husband are in Budapest. They booked their holiday long before the migrant crisis blew up. I have tipped them off about all the traditional cafes a stone's throw away from Keleti Station.

Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish

Gerry Snape said...

thankyou for the written word...glad to have it to read for myself.