In the White Bear inside the huge Spread Eagle
in a house leased from Baptist Hicks, he was born
“a stone’s throw from the Mermaid Tavern.”
And from a third-floor room he gazed
east to Bow Church, south to All Hallows, Bread Street,
where he was baptized, and, beyond, to Queenstithe,
the Thames, and distant Parkside.
As his eyes failed, his favorite Bible verse
became, for in my weakness is my strength.
He woke at four. By seven, verses filled his head,
and when the amanuensis
came late, he grumbled at his wife and daughters,
“I’m ready to be milked.”
Outside the walls of London, blind, his great
work nearly done, the master smelled the fire,
the great fire as it soared inside the walls
and consumed White Bear, Spread Eagle, All Hallows, Bread Street,
and a small house he’d leased there called the Rose.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 11 Number 2, on page 42
Copyright © 2017 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.com