Scenes In London II - Oxford Street

Letitia Elizabeth Landon 1802 (Chelsea) – 1838 (Cape Coast)

Life in its many shapes was there,
  The busy and the gay;
Faces that seemed too young and fair
  To ever know decay.

Wealth, with its waste, its pomp, and pride,
  Led forth its glittering train;
And poverty’s pale face beside
  Asked aid, and asked in vain.

The shops were filled from many lands,
  Toys, silks, and gems, and flowers;
The patient work of many hands,
  The hope of many hours.

Yet, mid life’s myriad shapes around
  There was a sigh of death;
There rose a melancholy sound,
  The bugle’s wailing breath.

They played a mournful Scottish air,
  That on its native hill
Had caught the notes the night-winds bear
  From weeping leaf and rill.

’Twas strange to hear that sad wild strain
  Its warning music shed,
Rising above life’s busy train,
  In memory of the dead.

There came a slow and silent band
  In sad procession by:
Reversed the musket in each hand,
  And downcast every eye.

They bore the soldier to his grave;
  The sympathising crowd
Divided like a parted wave
  By some dark vessel ploughed.

A moment, and all sounds were mute,
  For awe was over all;
You heard the soldier's measured foot,
  The bugle's wailing call.

The gloves were laid upon the bier,
  The helmet and the sword,
The drooping war-horse followed near,
  As he, too, mourned his lord.

Slowly—I followed too—they led
  To where a church arose,
And flung a shadow o’er the dead,
  Deep as their own repose.

Green trees were there—beneath the shade
  Of one, was made a grave;
And there to his last rest was laid
  The weary and the brave.

They fired a volley o’er the bed,
  Of an unconscious ear;
The birds sprang fluttering over-head,
  Struck with a sudden fear.

All left the ground, the bugles died
  Away upon the wind;
Only the tree’s green branches sighed
  O’er him they left behind.

Again, all filled with light and breath,
  I passed the crowded street—
Oh, great extremes of life and death,
  How strangely do ye meet!
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified by Madeleine Quinn


Letitia Elizabeth Landon

Letitia Elizabeth Landon was an English poet. Born 14th August 1802 at 25 Hans Place, Chelsea, she lived through the most productive period of her life nearby, at No.22. A precocious child with a natural gift for poetry, she was driven by the financial needs of her family to become a professional writer and thus a target for malicious gossip (although her three children by William Jerdan were successfully hidden from the public). In 1838, she married George Maclean, governor of Cape Coast Castle on the Gold Coast, whence she travelled, only to die a few months later (15th October) of a fatal heart condition. Behind her post-Romantic style of sentimentality lie preoccupations with art, decay and loss that give her poetry its characteristic intensity and in this vein she attempted to reinterpret some of the great male texts from a woman’s perspective. Her originality rapidly led to her being one of the most read authors of her day and her influence, commencing with Tennyson in England and Poe in America, was long-lasting. However, Victorian attitudes led to her poetry being misrepresented and she became excluded from the canon of English literature, where she belongs. more…

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