Words & Music: Symphony of the City – Transcript

Words & Music: Symphony of the City, aired on BBC 3 on 12th September, 2010. Richard Armitage and Emilia Fox read poetry and prose from Swift, Dickens and Wordsworth, T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf and William Carlos Williams on the theme of a ‘Symphony of a City’.

Links to the audio of selected poems are provided below with the poem’s transcript and you can download the poems from our Media – Narration page.

Our thanks to DebRA for her transcription.


CCXLV. Upon Westminster Bridge (W. Wordsworth), 1802



EARTH has not anything to show more fair;
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty.
This city now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky,—
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Overture To A Dance Of Locomotives (William Carlos Williams), 1921
Published in Sour Grapes



Men with picked voices chant the names
of cities in a huge gallery: promises
that pull through descending stairways
to a deep rumbling.

The rubbing feet
of those coming to be carried quicken a
grey pavement into soft light that rocks
to and fro, under the domed ceiling,
across and across from pale
earthcolored walls of bare limestone.

Covertly the hands of a great clock
go round and round! Were they to
move quickly and at once the whole
secret would be out and the shuffling
of all ants be done forever.

A leaning pyramid of sunlight, narrowing
out at a high window, moves by the clock:
disaccordant hands straining out from
a center: inevitable postures infinitely
Porters in red hats run on narrow platforms.
This way ma’am!
—important not to take
the wrong train!
Lights from the concrete
ceiling hang crooked but—
Poised horizontal
on glittering parallels the dingy cylinders
packed with a warm glow—inviting entry—
pull against the hour. But brakes can
hold a fixed posture till—
The whistle!

Not twoeight. Not twofour. Two!

Gliding windows. Colored cooks sweating
in a small kitchen. Taillights—

In time: twofour!
In time: twoeight!

—rivers are tunneled: trestles
cross oozy swampland: wheels repeating
the same gesture remain relatively
stationary: rails forever parallel
return on themselves infinitely.
The dance is sure.

Manhattan Transfer, Book II, Chapter V – Went to the Animals’ Fair, (John Dos Passos), 1925



Red light. Bell.
A block deep four ranks of cars wait at the grade crossing, fenders in taillights, mudguards scraping mudguards, motors purring hot, exhausts reeking, cars from Babylon and Jamaica, cars from Montauk, Port Jefferson, Patchogue, limousines from Long Beach, Far Rockaway, roadsters from Great Neck . . . cars full of asters and wet bathing suits, sun-singed necks, mouths sticky from sodas and hotdawgs. .. cars dusted with pollen of ragweed and goldenrod.

Green light. Motors race, gears screech into first. The cars space out, flow in a long ribbon along the ghostly cement road, between black-windowed blocks of concrete factories, between bright slabbed colors of signboards towards the glow over the city that stands up incredibly into the night sky like the glow of a great lit tent, like the yellow tall bulk of a tentshow.

Empty Silences (T S Eliot), c 1910



Along the city streets
It is still high tide,
Yet the garrulous waves of life
Shrink and divide
With a thousand incidents
Vexed and debated –
This is the hour for which we waited –

This is the ultimate hour
When life is justified.
The seas of experience’That were so broad and deep,
So immediate and steep,
Are suddenly still.
You may say what you will,
At such peace I am terrified.
There is nothing else beside.

Preludes (T S Eliot), 1917


The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o’clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimneypots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.


The morning comes to consciousness
Of faint stale smells of beer
From the sawdust-trampled street
With all its muddy feet that press
To early coffee-stands.

With the other masquerades
That times resumes,
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms.


You tossed a blanket from the bed
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.


His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o’clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.

I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.

Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.

A Silent City (Samuel Taylor Coleridge) 1804-5
(My thanks to AnnetteG for her help in locating the text, #13 in Project Gutenburg)

The silence of the city
How awful at midnight
Mute as the battlements and crags and towers
That fancy makes in the clouds
Yea as mute as the moonlight that sleeps on the steady vanes
The cell of a departed anchorite
His skeleton and flitting ghost are there
Sole tenants
And all the city
Silent as the moon that steeps in quiet light the
steady veins of her huge temples