Concerning Little Cities

Golding, Louis

72 THE COMMONWEAL May 22, 1929 CONCERNING LITTLE CITIES By LOUIS GOLDING IT IS distressing to disagree with the eminent Ford Madox Ford, who believes that New York is not America and...

...And there is balm for all your ills...
...Over Strath Carron sunset fumed as over an alchemic cauldron...
...The dispossessed birds waver into diminished solitudes...
...Knightly huzzas pass westward with the wind...
...I came down from the hills thither, the hills where proud Caradoc walks unappeased...
...The little cities have no truck with industrial revolutions...
...A corncrake spoke from the wild pansies and the tangled vetch...
...Shall the day come when from shore to shore the tentacular towns shall have so seized the land that green grass is cultivated curiously within railings...
...The eyes of the men are blue and their brows broad as the sky that instructs them in their sowing and reaping...
...Cows amble through their streets to pasture...
...It would be a goodly heaven if we should rise from our sleep to find there the bells of a little city unceasing, and periwinkles in the borders of our gardens, and swallows . . . and honey still for tea, and muffins...
...I remember how Bendhui was shaken to her roots to learn that a company of real London entertainers intended to amuse Bendhui from the vantage of a traveling theatre...
...that where beaver and fox, hare and squirrel once lived, only the grey cat slinks stealthily...
...Cocks are audacious, dogs friendly...
...The summits of Cam Vren shimmered and were like a grape, translucent purple...
...Almost the most sainted to me of my little cities is Wem, in the West Country...
...In England, too, we have seen clearly in our own days that sure, swift process by which the great towns have stalked from their fastnesses and holding high their banners of smoke, have set foot on green fields, stormed the hills, methodically invested the farther valleys...
...Yet there are times when the air is not void of the clang of stirrup and steel...
...For after all, England is so small a country...
...The peculiar and inalienable charm of a Charleston, a Boston, a New Orleans, is being sedulously preserved...
...Here the chiffchaff chirps and the missel-thrush is singularly badtempered, and starlings, like Irishmen, are eloquent of their wrongs...
...When the entertainers became amorous the three saffron-haired babies of Jeannie McLeod crowed and chuckled...
...There was mist over the quaint houses, over a dim hulk of stone...
...My journeys in the States convince me that if America is not New York, it is trying very hard to be...
...At their centre stood the nonagenarian Hector the Flesher, arched over his staff, absorbing incredulously the so metropolitan wit...
...In Wem," I murmuredó In Wem, in Shropshire, is lapwings' wings, And misty castles and rootless hills...
...For one would think that such nightmares as the spirit is heir to have been exorcised by the thaumaturgic craftsmen of the middle-ages, who have petrified them into gargoyles and cornices and arranged them along the edges of Holy Church to extract from them their last, least efficacy...
...An owl lifted a desultory hoot...
...Once in the heart of a black town which had been a little city long ago, an old memory was evoked at evening, when the sky was calm after much rain, and the ghost of the dead sweetness flitted for a time from factory gate to gate and sank once more...
...The sea-gulls shrieked windily, and a scuffling school fought over the caravan for a hunk of food...
...They are far from smoke and clamors...
...If you shall place them in time at all (and like their own elms, like the Parthenon, like Provence, they seem to be part of the world's beauty, unconditioned by time) they are of the Gothic mood...
...Perhaps, as war has made them the exposed nerves of a nation, peace, extracting from a stone more power than a hundred coal-galleries, will obliterate them, to leave room for the essential genius of England, the little cities...
...I go northward to Scotland where Bendhui stands May 22, 1929 THE COMMONWEAL 73 at the head of the Dornoch estuary...
...The minister passed along the road with eyes of cleric scorn...
...The peace of mountains and lonely waters came once more into the heart of the little city...
...But I will not argue with any other about it...
...The citizens of the little city made an open-mouthed semicircle...
...Wheat bows the head...
...The dominie presided over his children who were taking notes for a composition...
...In Gloucestershire, in Somersetshire, the little cities are set among the slopes of corn...
...Still hidden in the folds of the yellow hills, still slumbering by the side of far estuaries, still quiet behind woods in great lonely flatlands, the little cities live...
...Orchards are despoiled...
...And strawberry jam, if you do not care for honey...
...A hedgehog, finding the evening advanced, moved rashly from his hedge...
...When they became comical the three babies turned away their faces and wept with alarm...
...There are no little cities left in America, or few...
...72 THE COMMONWEAL May 22, 1929 CONCERNING LITTLE CITIES By LOUIS GOLDING IT IS distressing to disagree with the eminent Ford Madox Ford, who believes that New York is not America and wrote a book to tell us so...
...Time is most very still in Wem, The men and women are old and sage...
...They themselves seemed so full of dreaming that one must pass through them as in a dream, asking nothing, stringing them on the threads of memory as "The Place of Singing Waters," "The City of Jolly Windows," "The City of Girls with Green Eyes...
...In Wem, in Shropshire, when blackbird sings...
...Here bees buzz all day about the good wine in scarlet clover...
...Myself, I am all for honey...
...They are guarded securely by poetry, and bells wrap them with magic...
...There are many little cities of which I do not know, and do not hope to know, the name...
...There is another where two apple trees grow on the green for the use of all children...
...For Shropshire is an intermediate country, where no things are clearly defined, alive with echoes of dead wars not decided, where the names of little cities are tiny melancholy bellsóClun, Wem, Clun, Wem...
...The little cities of England hark back to no Roman memories...
...Their low rooms are ashimmer with lamplight, not vacuous with the blank eye of the electric globe...
...For the spirit of the little city has reached kindly hands to me by the grey west waters and beyond the Grampian buttresses...
...The humor of the metropolitans grew thin, slackened, ceased...
...What is most exalted in the saint and most frail in the human meet here and are reconciled...
...Houston, Texas, not less than Tulsa, Oklahoma, are small sections of this avenue or that avenue, set down in the wilderness...
...The linen of the women is white as the milk they churn...
...The little children do not age...
...Their streets are twisted like the philosophy of the schoolmen...
...Hard by sparks and clangors issued from the smithy...
...Perhaps the day of the great towns draws to an end...
...There is a little city in Yorkshire, somewhere beyond a place incredibly called Pocklington, Pinkton, of which I only know I entered it through tall, ivied gates of old brick...
...But the traveler, who knows something of the spirit of the English little cities, need not despair...
...Who knows...
...Now and again cowherds disturbed the geometry of the semicircle with their shaggy northern beasts...
...Sunset made of the estuary a channel of molten gold...
...There are only little New Yorks...
...A caravan was erected and a sophisticated young gentleman, assisted by two sophisticated young ladies, proceeded to be mirthful, musical and languishing...
...There is a spell cast over them...
...There are also little cities wholly of the mind, whence no fashion can remove the page-boys clad in scarlet who follow the pompous masters of guilds, unwieldy with their robes and chains of gold...
...The last plover wept and was quiet...
...Their tiny towers hover benevolently over the laughter of children...
...Their masonry is built not to defy the weather, like an enemy, but to be colored with it, mellowed, like a friend...
...There was an enchantment which held me there and holds me there still...
...For the Round Table has not discovered the Grail...
...They gave extracts from a performance described as "Chu Chin Chow, the latest revue from the Adelphi Theatre in Shaftesbury Circus...
...There is so little space between shore and shore...
...They are not placed on those great roads which run inexorably as a vendetta...
...But the vital elements of these cities are more and more New York...
...And yet the little cities do not wholly need Gothic stone and cobbled streets to achieve this lovely seclusion of the spirit...

Vol. 10 • May 1929 • No. 3


 
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