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Poem: "Along the Streets of London" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "Along the Streets of London"

This poem came out of the April 3, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from Stephen Laird, rix_scaedu, and thesilentpoet.  It has been sponsored by Anthony and Shirley Barrette.  It belongs to The Steamsmith series, although it's a background piece rather than a character narrative; you can find out more about the series on the Serial Poetry page.  I also looked up historic London neighborhoods in the East End (the poor side of town) and found some references to the West Side (where respectable people lived).  There are many references in this poem to features of poorer and richer lifestyles and occupations, some historic and some particular to nether-Earth. 

Furthermore, this is written in traditional ballad style.  There's a meter variation in the last verse, which is something I almost never do, but it just refused to go away no matter how I arranged the pieces.  So.  That actually is historically valid; meter was often quite casual in ballads, but even the more regular ones would sometimes fiddle with the syllable count and/or tune in the last verse as a way of signalling the end.  Similarly the language is common rather than sophisticated, because ballads were aimed for popular appeal.  Compare the vocabulary in this poem to the other Steamsmith ones and you can see the difference between Maryam's precise alchemical terms and what the man-on-the-street would typically call things.

Along the Streets of London

Along the streets of London
The houses stand in rows,
But there are hidden alleys
Where nary noble goes.

The East End is a mire
Where crime and vice are seen
From Shadwell on to Wapping
And down to Bethnal Green.

The fair and fog-lit London
Is not for such a street;
It's coal and rushlights mostly
Where land and water meet.

The West Side shines with wonder
And lives without a care;
With engines run on Hot fuel,
And phosphor lanterns there.

But down beside the river,
No copper pipes but lead
And gears like granny-women
Have few teeth in the head.

The steamsmiths live on bacon
And get the best and most,
While East End's poor earthworkers
Get by on beans and toast.

Yet underneath the city
Where nobles never go
Lie tunnels by the mile
That only poor men know.

So when the earthworks falter
And power takes its toll
It is the poor earthworkers
Who keep all London whole.

A chimneysweep is lucky;
A beggar's babe is cute
But it's the old earthworker
Who more deserves the loot.

Along the streets of London
The alchemists go by,
The lowborn and the highborn
The limping and the spry.

Though honour's rarely given
With equal hand and fair,
Remember whose work saves you
In dusty dark down there

And when you see earthworkers
All grubby from their trade
At least give them the courtesy
Of which Great Britain's made.

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4 comments or Leave a comment
cat_sanctuary From: cat_sanctuary Date: April 5th, 2012 08:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hmm. "Earthworker" in ancient Greek meant a farmer, but "dusty dark down there" makes them sound more like miners. Which are they--or does the term embrace both? Which earlier posts do we need to read to understand this?
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: April 5th, 2012 09:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
A Keen Eye for Alchemy has earthworkers dealing with utility tunnels under the city.
cat_sanctuary From: cat_sanctuary Date: April 5th, 2012 09:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 6th, 2012 02:36 am (UTC) (Link)


Here's the specific definition from the vocabulary list:

earthworker -- an alchemist who specializes in earth-engines or other earthworks, the technology of soil energy; this field belongs primarily to commoners, although most alchemical sciences belong more to gentlemen

But it does tie into farmers and miners, those being early occupations where someone skilled with ge (Earth) would have an advantage. The energy of earth is slow and steady and strong, underlying some important aspects of civilization.

Amusingly, there are people who try to ignore a strong talent in that field just because it's not considered classy ... and that includes one of the major noble families already introduced in the series. More fun will be had with this eventually.

4 comments or Leave a comment