God’s clownish, tumbling bells
bang out their Sunday-morning scales
with rabble-rousing eloquence.
But what of the sad, cramped hells,
we know lie hidden hereabouts?
Minded by corpulent nymphets
with wings and frowns, in reticence
they guard their deeply-embedded doubts.

A mawkish exercise,
but one that everyone enjoys –
to step about this cluttered suburb
like a daytime ghost. We scrutinise
indifferent marble garden art,
whilst only our near neighbours, inert,
ignore the bells’ blithe hubbub
and resolutely stick apart.

Confronted by so much stone,
the irony of the autumn sun
would make light of the whole affair,
pace that smothered undertone.
But reading of what we lack
in unknown names, quaint rhetoric,
how can we fail to despair
amid death’s haphazard bric-à-brac?

In church, stout men at ropes,
gargantuan pan-pipes
and a bible-bolstering eagle –
props to abash our failing hopes –
contrive to adumbrate
a world of pastoral joy. Discreet
chorales endorse the beadle,
who gathers cash on a wooden plate.

Ineffectual routines ...
‘Get up, you lazy bones!’
is what the bells say every Sunday,
and a nosegay by a headstone means
much the same. As though
there was something we might yet do
to assuage the contemptus mundi
of those who bide their time below ...

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN


Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences