Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
The Poetry of East London Life
By John Richard Green (18371883)
From Stray Studies
FEW regions are more unknown than the Tower Hamlets. Not even Mrs. Riddell has ventured as yet to cross the border which parts the City from their weltering mass of busy life, their million of hard workers packed together in endless rows of monotonous streets, broken only by ship-yard or factory or huge breweries, streets that stretch away eastward from Aldgate to the Essex marshes. And yet, setting aside the poetry of life which is everywhere, there is poetry enough in East London; poetry in the great river which washes it on the south, in the fretted tangle of cordage and mast that peeps over the roofs of Shadwell or in the great hulls moored along the wharves of Wapping; poetry in the Forest that fringes it to the east, in the few glades that remain of Epping and Hainault,glades ringing with the shouts of schoolchildren out for their holiday and half mad with delight at the sight of a flower or a butterfly; poetry of the present in the work and toil of these acres of dull bricks and mortar where everybody, man woman and child, is a worker, this England without a leisure class; poetry in the thud of the steam-engine, and the white trail of steam from the tall sugar refinery, in the blear eyes of the Spitalfields weaver, or the hungering faces of the group of labourers clustered from morning till night round the gates of the docks and watching for the wind that brings the ships up the river: poetry in its past, in strange old-fashioned squares, in quaint gabled houses, in grey village churches, that have been caught and overlapped and lost, as it were, in the great human advance that has carried London forward from Whitechapel, its limit in the age of the Georges, to Stratford, its bound in that of Victoria.