London’s River Lea and Waltham Forest in Drayton’s 1622 Poly-Olbion

Now you see ’em, now you don’t.

Olympic Park with the River Lea in 2012, before the Singing Organ-Grinder arrived.

Olympic Park with the River Lea in 2012, before the Singing Organ-Grinder arrived. Image: EG Focus.

Bearing in mind that Waltham Forest used to be in Essex, here’s a bleeding hunk of Song 19:

The Muse, now over Thames makes forth,
Upon her Progresse to the North,
From Cauney with a full carrere,
Shee up against the streame doth beare;
Where Waltham Forrests pride exprest,
Shee poynts directly to the East,
And shewes how all those Rivers straine
Through Essex, to the German mayne;
When Stoure, with Orwels ayd prefers,
Our Brittish brave Sea-voyagers;
Halfe Suffolke in with them shee takes,
Where of this Song an end shee makes.



    But Muse, from her so low, divert thy high-set song
To London-wards, and bring from Lea with thee along
The Forrests, and the Floods, and most exactly show,
How these in order stand, how those directly flow:
For in that happy soyle, doth pleasure ever wonne,
Through Forrests, where cleere Rills in wild Meanders runne;
Where daintie Summer Bowers, and Arborets are made,
Cut out of Busshy thicks, for coolenesse of the shade.
Fooles gaze at painted Courts, to th’countrey let me goe,
To climbe the easie hill, then walke, the valley lowe;
No gold-embossed Roofes, to me are like the woods;
No Bed like to the grasse, nor liquor like the floods:
A Citie’s but a sinke, gay houses gawdy graves,
The Muses have free leave, to starve or live in caves:	
    But Waltham Forrest still in prosperous estate,
As standing to this day (so strangely fortunate)
Above her neighbour Nymphs, and holds her head aloft;
30A turfe beyond them all, so sleeke and wondrous soft,
Upon her setting side, by goodly London grac’d,
Upon the North by Lea, her South by Thames embrac’d.
Upon her rising point, shee chaunced to espie,
A daintie Forrest-Nymph of her societie.
Faire Hatfield, which in height all other did surmount,
And of the Dryades held in very high account;
Yet in respect of her stood farre out of the way,
Who doubting of her selfe, by others late decay,
Her sisters glory view’d with an astonish’d eye,
Whom Waltham wisely thus reprooveth by and by.

I can’t say that from from Walthamstow village or anywhere else in the borough I’ve ever seen Hatfield Forest (which Wikipedia, contradicting Drayton, claims to be “the only remaining intact Royal Hunting Forest”), but maybe divine eyes or even binoculars are required. Pleased later by the reference to Walfleet, which is to say Wallasea, oysters, and there’s much more, and even Robin Hood. If you pay me I’ll sing the bludy thing.

Similar posts