Mansfield vignette “I” (evoking a literary London)


“Away beyond the line of dark houses there is a sound like the call of the sea after a storm – passionate, solemn, strong. I lean far out of my window in the warm, still night air. Down below, in the Mews, the little lamp is singing a silent song. It is the only glow of light in all this darkness. Men swilling the carriages with water; their sudden, sharp, exclamations; the faint, thin cry of a very young child, the chiming of a bell from the church close by – these are the only other sounds, impersonal, vague, intensely agitating.
It is at this hour and in this loneliness that London stretches out eager hands towards me, and in her eyes is the light of knowledge. ‘In my streets,’ she whispers, ‘there is the passing of many feet, there are lines of flaring lights, there are cafes full of men and women, there is the intoxicating madness of night music, a great glamour of darkness, a tremendous anticipation, and, o’er all, the sound of laughter, half sad, half joyous, yet fearful, dying away in a strange shudder of satisfaction, and then swelling out into more laughter.’ The men and women in the cafes hear it. They look at each other suddenly, swiftly, searchingly, and the lights seem stronger, the night music throbs yet more madly.
Out of the theatres a great crowd of people stream into the streets. There is the penetrating rhythm of the hansom cabs.
Convention has long since sought her bed. With blinds down, with curtains drawn, she is sleeping and dreaming.
Do you not hear the quick beat of my heart? Do you not feel the fierce rushing of blood through my veins?
In my streets there is the answer to all your achings and cryings. Prove yourself, permeate your senses with the heavy sweetness of the night. Let nothing remain hidden. Who knows that in the exploration of your mysteries you may find the answer to your questionings.” (p.4)

Ref: (italics in original) Ed. Vincent O’Sullivan (1990) Poems of Katherine Mansfield. Auckland, Melbourne, Oxford: Oxford University Press


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