Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Poetry preserves the past in "1984"

When Winston Smith in George Orwell's "1984" returns to the shop where he bought his diary, the shopkeeper recites an old rhyme: "Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement's, You owe me three farthings, say the bells of St. Martin's." Winston is struck by the poem's effect: "When you said it to yourself you had the illusion of actually hearing bells, the bells of a lost London that still existed somewhere or other, disguised and forgotten." These verses about old London churches contain not only the history but also the past atmosphere of the city. Even in half-remembered fragments, poetry preserves the past against the Ministry of Truth's erasure. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 May)

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