The Manhattan Review
The Manhattan Review
Established 1980

Archive > Vol. 6 no. 1


Peter Redgrove

The Town Alters So the Guides Are Useless


Roomy white houses, pokey cafes,
Seawaves crisping in, smelling
Of receding storms, the beds
Everywhere of craftsman flowers,
Britain in Bloom, by their rude openings
Showing their craft of perfume.

The craft of perfume and electricity
Which is the town’s name,
Its roots deep in the mines.

An old mine collapsing at midnight
Drives down the street like a furrowing earthquake;

Like marsh-bubbles of midnight
Mines rise through the houses
As the houses fall;

The airing cupboard opens on a gritty precipice,
Your shirts fall into the unlaundered blackness
Scented with arsenic and moldy copperas.

Even the trees are falling into the mines,
The woods are falling into the little hills
Which have such great undergrounds;

Even the trees that cure
By the continual utterance
Of their name-sound along the winds
And their perfume on the wind,
Even such trees fall as the hills open;

Even the healing tree
Which drew arsenious oxide up
And broadcast it in homeopathic amounts,
Even this now descends
To its great white mother-lode in the dark.

Instead of hills
We are left with domes and whistling crags,
Ragged declivities as full of holes
As iron cheeses, copper cheeses.

With delicacy and respect, our lamps lit,
We enter a broad gallery root-roofed
Half a mile down; our leader holds up his hand:
“Hush,” he says, “do you smell that?”

So we turn our carbide lamps off, can better
Hear the water, and we round
The bend of the corridor to where
The descended forests are glowing with fruit, spread underground
In all the hues of copper, tin, and iron; he enters,

Our leader tastes a bronze apple, pronounces it good.