This Afternoon in London
by Larry Pike
I stood in the museum’s Manuscript Room
long enough to hear the grave whisper
of the gimpy Lord’s soul as it pressed
against the leaded glass. Was it an alien
tongue or simply muffled sound indistinct
about my ear? Its swelling sigh did not arouse
the sentry who spared an indifferent look
at me leaning across the restraining rope,
my shadow spreading over the heavy pane
preserving Byron’s frail pages—there and
there and there where I could not discern
his rapid hand on the brittle sheets.
The chill casement received my reckless touch
like a busy confessor eager for some original sin,
and discharged a meager static spark
through the window on the dead.
PHOTO: British Museum, main entrance, London, England (2018).
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: In August 1973, I traveled with nine friends on a two-week tour of England. During one of our days in London, we spent most of the afternoon in the British Museum. I was a rising college junior and had recently declared an English major, and I was eager to visit the Manuscript Room. The Magna Carta, among other rare documents, is there, but I was keen to see the pages on display by some of the poets I’d studied the previous semester—Wordsworth, Shelley, and Byron. I stood for quite awhile trying to decipher Byron’s penmanship. That trip with my friends was a great journey and a memorable time together, but that afternoon was the highlight for me.
IMAGE: Don Juan’ Autograph draft of stanza of the Dedication and of Canto I, stanza 220 (circa 1818). Find more information at the British Library. In 1973, the British Library Act 1972 detached the library department from the British Museum, but until 1997 it continued to host the now separated British Library in the same Reading Room and building as the museum.
NOTE: The British Museum, in the Bloomsbury area of London, England, is a public institution dedicated to human history, art, and culture. Its permanent collection of about eight million works is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence. The Museum’s holdings document the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present. The first public national museum in the world, the Museum was established in 1753, largely based on the collections of the Irish physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane. It first opened to the public in 1759, in Montagu House, on the site of the current building.
PHOTO: The British Museum Reading Room (2006).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Larry Pike’s poetry has appeared in a variety of journals. He has work forthcoming in River and South Review, Better Than Starbucks, Saint Katherine Review, and Cape Magazine. His collection Even in the Slums of Providence will be published in October 2021 by Finishing Line Press.
Author photo by Bryn Chapman.