Wynn Wheldon

Sorbet with Rimbaud

A review of Bloomsbury and the Poets, by Nicholas Murray. A delightful guide to the rich literary history of the London district

Sorbet with Rimbaud
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Bloomsbury and the Poets

Nicholas Murray

Rack Press Editions, pp. 54, £

The Bloomsbury of the title refers to the place, not the group. The group didn’t have a poet. ‘I would rather be a child and walk in a crocodile down a suburban path than write poetry, I have heard prose writers say,’ wrote Virginia Woolf, albeit tongue-in-cheek (maybe).

Nonetheless, unsurprisingly, these non-poets steal the first chapter of this amuse-bouche of a publication. They are allowed to so that the author, or rather his sources, may describe the rather dull area of London that abuts the eastern end of the Euston Road to the north, and to the south High Holborn. ‘A cold grim house in a cold, grim district,’ wrote Harold Nicolson of Virginia and Vanessa Stephens’s house in Gordon Square.

The author’s presence is felt, lightly, throughout, combining faultlessly the scholarly and the anecdotal. He has a sardonic tone that levels the great names, taking them out of their works and plonking them firmly down in actual places. North of the Euston Road, in ‘raunchier’ Camden, Verlaine shoots his lover Rimbaud in the arm. In Bloomsbury the latter buys his sister a sorbet. In Marchmont Street William Empson, celebrated critic and difficult poet, cooks ‘a saucepan of twopenny soup on a gas ring’ for Sylvia Townsend Warner. T.S. Eliot has ‘a papal court’ in Russell Square; Ezra Pound notes that W.B.Yeats, who lived in Woburn Walk, has ‘painted the stairs sky blue’. Similar thumbnail felicities attach to many others, including Thomas Gray, Charlotte Mew, and ‘Ted and Sylvia’. A delight.

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