Archibald Lampman: The City

Archibald Lampman is a Canadian poet of the late-Romantic period. He is often compared to the poet Keats for his poetry’s sublime and reflective views of nature. A weak heart from childhood illness caused his death at merely 37 years old in 1899. His final and 3rd volume of poetry, Alcyone and other poems, was published afterwards, containing one of my personal favorites, The City. Observing the effects of the Industrial Revolution, he recognized the value of progression as well as its consequences. He admires the extraordinary evolution of architecture, but mourns for humanity’s new lifestyle: fast-paced, busy, noisy, stressful, and constrained. His foreshadowing 19th century perspective highlights the very activity that has humanity aching in today’s 21st century. Caffeine consumption, full schedules, ringing cellphones, and constant fatigue have become essentials to living life. Unfortunately, it is considered shameful to be unproductive, and taking a break to do nothing has become something that must be earned. Taking a note from Lampman, we should  open our eyes and see how humanity is being robbed of this basic right to rest, and plead alongside him for our modern city to loosen its grip on us.

The City by Archibald Lampman

Canst thou not rest, O city,
That liest so wide and fair;
Shall never an hour bring pity,
Nor end be found for care?

Thy walls are high in heaven,
Thy streets are gay and wide,
Beneath thy towers at even
The dreamy waters glide.

Thou art fair as the hills at morning,
And the sunshine loveth thee,
But its light is a gloom of warning
On a soul no longer free.

The curses of gold are about thee,
And thy sorrow deepeneth still;
One madness within and without thee,
One battle blind and shrill.

I see the crowds for ever
Go by with hurrying feet;
Through doors that darken never
I hear the engines beat.

Through days and nights that follow
The hidden mill-wheel strains;
In the midnight’s windy hollow
I hear the roar of trains.

And still the day fulfilleth,
And still the night goes round,
And the guest-hall boometh and shrilleth,
With the dance’s mocking sound.

In chambers of gold elysian,
The cymbals clash and clang,
But the days are gone like a vision
When the people wrought and sang.

And toil hath fear for neighbour,
Where singing lips are dumb,
And life is one long labour,
Till death or freedom come.

Ah! the crowds that for ever are flowing–
They neither laugh nor weep–
I see them coming and going,
Like things that move in sleep:

Grey sires and burdened brothers,
The old, the young, the fair,
Wan cheeks of pallid mothers,
And the girls with golden hair.

Care sits in many a fashion,
Grown grey on many a head,
And lips are turned to ashen
Whose years have right to red.

Canst thou not rest, O city,
That liest so wide, so fair;
Shalt never an hour bring pity,
Nor end be found for care?

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