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POETRY IN MOTION

06-04-2007

In holiday mood, Laurence Inman reflects on a favourite bus ride, a wonderful walk, and some splendid verse. All in beautiful Birmingham.

Living in Kings Heath, it would seem logical that I get the 50 bus into town, but I never do. I always walk the mile or so over to Wake Green Road and catch the 1, which takes me past the County Ground, through leafy Edgbaston and along Broad Street to the Town Hall.

It is a completely different urban experience to the one provided by the 50 route and I don't have to get into a fight with some anti-social hooded cretin who hangs around at the entrance to the Goose and then jumps the queue.

Often I will get off at Centenary Square because that way I can enjoy what for me is invariably a blissful experience: walking towards Chamberlain Square over Centenary Bridge. Those of you who remember the muddy makeshift tunnel under the thundering west side of Paradise Circus, which the bridge replaced, will know exactly what I mean.

Then, sadly, it's a quick dash through that bloody awful little (mall ? parade ? what ?) and out into the bright space of Chamberlain Square, trying to avoid glancing over at the absurd, deserted ‘garden' which replaced the old library, and into the splendour of the new Victoria Square.

Victoria Square

Not every public space which is pedestrianised or re-laid is an automatic success. The National Gallery is much better approached now than before the north side of Trafalgar Square was closed to traffic, but Alfred Waterhouse's Manchester Town Hall is, I think, diminished, now that it's not the visual back-drop of a busy through-route. But our Council House can now be seen at its very best.

Council House

I don't think the approach to, and view of, Yeoville Thomason's great classical building can be improved. Since it was completed in 1879 the full view of the front elevation up from the end of New Street has, bit by bit, been revealed.

First, the rather glum Christ Church was demolished in 1900, a year before Council House Square became Victoria Square. Seventy years later the block west of Christ Church Passage disappeared and once the road was diverted from the front of the Council House, the site was ready to be developed into the magnificent spectacle we see today.

The pools, waterfalls and stylised stone figures make it a dramatic and intriguing composition and there is a beautiful finishing-touch which both visitors and locals sometimes miss; around the topmost pool these lines have been carved:

And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,

And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,

The surface glittered out of heart of light,

And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.

Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.

They are from the opening section of ‘Burnt Norton' which is the first poem in Four Quartets by T.S.Eliot.

I have loved this beautiful, mysterious poem since I first read it forty years ago. I can still remember the intense excitement I felt as I reached the end, and then read it through immediately again. And a third time, probably.

This is how poetry should be, I thought. You may not understand every word and phrase, in the sense of being able to paraphrase it in some examination, but the imaginative power of it is implacable and undeniable.

I was by no means a nerdy stay-at-home youth, but I was besotted with Literature and determined to be a writer myself. And, like all teenagers, I was convinced that only I could see into this magic and respond fully to it.

I've since discovered, of course, that nearly every literary adolescent who comes across this poem feels the same way, including, I'm sure, the person responsible for deciding that these words should form a permanent part of one of Birmingham's architectural glories.

Whoever it was, I'd like to give them a big slobbery kiss. (Figuratively speaking, of course.)

What are your favourite sights and sounds in the West Midlands? Leave a comment on the Miscellaneous section of our messageboard.

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