As the annoying drizzle soaks with stealth outside,
A lonely reader seeks a change of scene
To unpack Pope's epistle against learning.
The doors swing him through into the auditorium
Of neglected dust. The Battle of Books ensues,
But no one's fussed. Old, fat, haggedy hag,
Slumps in chair with papers of Tory trivi'l.
Armchairs, stained with port and mud from the stirrups
Of Charlie's twenties sport. Jolly good ol' chap.
Sweeping round the cosmos of soiled volumes,
The reader spies a table side, with dim light
Wasting its breath. Lecteur no. 2 spreads his broadsheet
Of sloppy student stories, peering at the crossword
With microscopic wit through his greasy specs. He sniffs
And snuffles, and fidgets and fuffles -
The street would suit him better -
But his life-fee was paid in sixty-three.
His critical career took a period and never went up
After he went down. (Now working on a barmy monograph
Of some political obscurity.) How sad, how miserable!
And the reader thought he was lame!
The grizzly hack still chastes his youth,
But the yellow stain creeps up his long tooth.
The reader makes his nest at the oaken top,
Only for his legs to be violently attacked 'cos the chair
Don't fit. Typical. Some useless Librarian Elect (by one)
Must have watched his budget on the horses run.
Uncompetence is this place's speciality.
The seat of learning and future government? My Rs!
Craned over, the Pope sets sail, but sense appears to no avail.
Meanwhile the street-spirit snorts away, shifting chair
And leg and nose and bag, making more noise
Than the greasy-spoon hag. The odd turn of Tory-graph
Is all, perhaps: no chance of nap for Mr Reader.
Another comes in - no one looks up. Papers too -
Just a quick check-up. Too quick for grizzly
Green-shirt, who spouts with corrupted breath,
"Do you think you could make less noise with the papers?"
The cheeky cunt! How dare the little runt rule
The roost - it's not as if he was defaming Proust.
The Popish lines still waste away, while memory-man
Lives back in his day. Old hag now haggered off
To mingle with some barred toff, they sit alone,
Side by side, a few worlds apart: some sorry urchin
And a lonely Hert.
Book II all done, no room for legs on either side
Of unmatching chairs, reader moves his stuff
With quiet care, to share a table with bio-Eden,
O'ergrown with moss, but within, some hacking sprite
Seeks secrets to the Downing world, the forgotten life -
Needless to mention off for a break. Alas!
No room at the inn on this side of the Oval either.
Just one more book then it's so-long-farewell,
Wicked, conniving, book-selling hell.
It looks quaint and feels as if it's stuck in time
With photographs of Asquith - or whoever it was
Who was erie before. Ploughed shelves, plundered,
Blundered - SOLD! for a pound, a priceless volume
In leather bound. The shelves will wait, falling
And forgotten, but The Union will remain forever rotten.
[Tuesday 11 February 2003]