The poet Louise Imogen Guiney (1861-1920) was born in Boston to an Irish-Catholic father who was a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Her Catholic faith informs much of her poetry. ‘The Lights of London’, a sonnet which appeared in Guiney’s 1898 volume England and Yesterday, evokes London as night comes on, and was written around 20 years before the modernist T. S. Eliot began to write about similar scenes. ‘Her booths begin to flare; and gases bright / Prick door and window’ is a particularly acute observation.
The Lights of London
The evenfall, so slow on hills, hath shot
Far down into the valley’s cold extreme,
Untimely midnight; spire and roof and stream
Like fleeing specters, shudder and are not.
The Hampstead hollies, from their sylvan plot
Yet cloudless, lean to watch as in a dream,
From chaos climb with many a sudden gleam,
London, one moment fallen and forgot.
Her booths begin to flare; and gases bright
Prick door and window; all her streets obscure
Sparkle and swarm with nothing true nor sure,
Full as a marsh of mist and winking light;
Heaven thickens over, Heaven that cannot cure
Her tear by day, her fevered smile by night.
If you enjoyed ‘The Lights of London’, you might also like our pick of the best poems about the city.