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By Waterloo Station I sat down and thought
(on a bench not too far from the turbulent stream)
of Edwardian London’s once dominant port,
and of trains puffing by, empowered by steam.
The air was polluted by sulphur and soot,
the era of hansoms and carts would soon pass,
the populace mostly traversed upon foot,
while cars were the realm of the privileged class.
Of headgear—like toppers and bowlers and boaters—
the age of King Edward the Seventh was known;
its corseted women aspired to be voters
and seeds of a world conflagration were sown.
__This city of spectral, historical shades,
__no matter its present, its past never fades.

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First published on the Inter-Board Poetry Competition (IBPC) Site

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Paul A. Freeman is the author of Rumours of Ophir, a crime novel which was taught in Zimbabwean high schools and has been translated into German. In addition to having two novels, a children’s book and an 18,000-word narrative poem (Robin Hood and Friar Tuck: Zombie Killers!) commercially published, Paul is the author of hundreds of published short stories, poems and articles.


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21 Responses

  1. Peter Hartley

    Paul – A very evocative poem, this, and it captures so much of what characterised the Edwardian age, the age of my grandfather’s youth, and an age with the spectre and horror of the Great War so soon in prospect for so many like him. A well-chosen photo from Evan of Waterloo Station’s facade, though of course in those days it would have been black with soot and grime in no time.

    Reply
    • Paul Freeman

      Thank you. It was the era of my grandfather, too, an era of great and sudden transition which is often neglected in film and literature.

      Reply
  2. Joe Tessitore

    I agree with Peter, and you’ve employed a wonderful meter that made for a very enjoyable read.

    Reply
    • Paul Freeman

      Thanks, Joe. It was the first time I ever used that meter and took a lot of work.

      Reply
  3. Brian Yapko

    This is a marvelous sonnet, Paul. Very historically evocative, rich in imagery and rather melancholy with that ominous cloud of a world-changing imminent Great War looming over all.

    Reply
    • Paul Freeman

      Cheers, Brian. My daughter was reading Howard’s End for Literature at the time I wrote it and I was struck by the sudden change brought about by motor car transport at the time.

      Reply
  4. Damian Robin

    I’m grateful to you Paul. I don’t live in London now so I don’t see the station often and did not look up enough at the wonderful facade. Good to see it here.

    Your poem reminds me of a TV costume drama with hints of sweet nostalgia and reality. All set up with the first line’s evocation of Psalm 137 with Babylon being the present days’ corrosive culture and Zion being a longed-for return to human sanity and decorum .

    (And, thankfully, without the terrible baby-bashing revenge at the end :^) )

    Reply
    • Paul Freeman

      Thanks, Damian. As I said in the previous reply, I wrote the sonnet while my daughter was studying Howards End (1910) and brought in various themes and observations from the story in an attempt to write something as different as possible from the Victorian era. My only worry was that it would channel Mary Poppins – which I believe has an Edwardian setting.

      Reply
  5. Cheryl Corey

    I enjoy the poem, but I’m also fascinated by the building’s architecture. Do you have any information to share? Thanks.

    Reply
    • Paul Freeman

      Glad you enjoyed the poem, Cheryl. Waterloo is one of several London stations built to facilitate countrywide rail transport. Waterloo serves the south and south-west of England, including the Bournemouth area, where on of the secondary characters resided in Howards End (plug, plug).

      As for the picture, Evan is a maestro when it comes to elevating our work with an illustration.

      Reply
  6. Joseph S. Salemi

    A good period piece on London’s rich past, and vividly phrased.

    I have one criticism of the meter in line five. The word “redolent” is very difficult to use in verse that is dominantly dactylic. The way the line stands now, the stress seems to fall on the second syllable (“The air was re DO lent of sulphur and soot”), which does not suit the word’s proper pronunciation (RE do lent).

    I suggest this revision: “The air was polluted by sulphur and soot”

    Reply
  7. Paul Freeman

    I hang my head in shame, Joseph. I can’t recall ever hearing ‘redolent’ spoken and have always thought the stress was on the second syllable (my teenage son got the correct stress immediately I spelled the word out to him, so I feel doubly a twit).

    Oh, well, every day is a learning experience!

    ‘polluted’ wasn’t originally the word I wanted, I’ve also toyed with ‘corrupted’, but ‘polluted’ has now grown on me.

    Thank you for the observation and for pointing it out – I shall inform Evan.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Paul, the couplet is marvelous, especially for an American who is always looking for the past (and surprised by the present) in London. I had a little fun in thinking of a three-syllable word with the right accent and meaning to replace “redolent.” “Polluted” and “corrupted” are good; “ambrosial” too ironic, and “mephitic” smells too much of the dictionary. “Gunpowdered” and “blackpowdered” are amusing, but not real words enough to be acceptable as I am typing them in. “Soot” has texture and “sulphur” has smell, so you set yourself a riddle in looking for the word to combine them!

      Reply
      • Paul Freeman

        Thank you for your comments, Margaret. If this is an insight into how your poetic mind works when you write translations, analysing and weighing up obscure and less obscure alternatives, it’s amazing – and enviable. You’re a walking Thesaurus!

        Thanks for reading, and thanks for all the suggestions.

  8. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Paul, there is much to be enjoyed in this admirably crafted poem. I like the beat of the metre – it reminds me of the rhythmic chugging of a train. The linguistic picture your words paint is vivid and engaging. I like the allusion to the suffragettes and those “toppers and bowlers and boaters” are delightful. The closing couplet is magnificent. “This city of spectral, historical shades” is musical and beautiful. But, it’s that last line I love… it makes my heart swell with memories of my homeland, especially my commuting-to-London days. I’ve spent much time on the platform of Waterloo Station waiting for my train to Barnehurst… always late or cancelled during the Christmas period. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Paul Freeman

      So glad you liked the poem, Susan. I was wondering if Kent was linked to Waterloo or one of the other stations around London.

      Thanks for reading and for the positive comments.

      Reply
  9. David Watt

    Paul, the well written detail within your sonnet builds a vivid picture of Edwardian London. Your concluding couplet beautifully linking past to present was also a highlight for me.

    Reply
  10. James A. Tweedie

    Paul,

    There was a bit of the Edwardian era that splashed across the Atlantic, I dare say. For it was in 1912, when they were both students at UC Berkeley, that my Grandfather Tweedie proposed to my grandmother after paddling a canoe into the middle of Stow Lake in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. He was wearing a straw “boater” hat and serenaded her while playing a ukulele.

    My grandfather did not have a very good singing voice but my grandmother apparently appreciated the effort enough to answer his proposal with a “yes.”

    I am also old enough to remember what London looked like before they cleaned the soot off of the buildings and covered up all evidence of shrapnel from building facades.

    The Victoria fog, however, was already a thing of the past.

    Great poem.

    Reply
    • Paul Freeman

      Thank you very much, James.

      Did you ever consider Grandma Tweedie said ‘Yes’ BECAUSE of the poor singing voice and the ukulele?

      Great anecdote.

      Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      James, wouldn’t that story about your grandparents be an excellent basis for a short narrative poem?

      Reply

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