Thursday, 24 January 2013

Gone (after Robert Lowell's For the Union Dead)

The old South Kensington Museum
Is not a place I'll ever see again, though
Once I trawled contentedly around
The shallow dioramas,
Pressed brass buttons
To make things spin or glow,
Approving then the forced perspectives and
The little figures in their period gear.
Then, after scrabbling for that golden ball
I stood with other children at the automatic door,
A wondrous harbinger of soon.

I took my son last week
And he was all agog
To see the mighty three-ton lens from Castle Birr
Ground for a year, none bigger ever made, but
Now (they said) no longer on display -
Lugged off to some remote suburban store.
And what we saw on every floor
Instead of all the things we'd come to see
Was all the crap that's taken over science.

Gone the Deltic Locomotive,
Baby blue with golden whiskers, 
Gone too Caerphilly Castle
Signal box and tram, The working model coal mine

Downstairs a loud Australian "worked the room"
As schoolkids shrieked. 
Balloons went bang, the whole place stank
Of feet, was all unserious.

It's also all so gone to pot:
A lot of other stuff's been thrown out. 
A sad-eyed warden told me that
The maritime gallery, a favoured place,
Was closing soon to (can you believe)
Become a new hands-on display of telecoms.

Gone the brass and iron apprentice models
Gone the engines, blueprints and maquettes,
Gone the wide-hipped dreadnoughts
Fishing sloops and trawlers, clippers and destroyers
Blue riband Cunarders
And London's only model quinquireme.

They're phasing out the simple stuff
The dirty heavy simple stuff
That made us what we used to think we were.
That past, the only one we have, is going, going, gone
While out on Exhibition Road
The street is full of motor cars, pedestrians and air.

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