Improvisation: the London Dervish

Bijan Omrani


I could be a dervish in the streets
Of London town. As if in rags I trod
The desert ways from Baghdad on to Samarkand,
And found a heaven ravelled up in every grain
Of sand, so too, here, along the streets that feed
Along from Farringdon from Blackfriars up
To Smithfield, casting off all that I have
And am, and was, I’d look. And in that look
If I should see the oily slicks that run
Along the gutter knitted up with leaves
All broken, all the smoke-black darkness smeared
Along the ochre terraced bricks of London clay,
The grey and crystal spray of mist held still
Above the roofs which weaves and melds the slate
And shine of windows on the housetops and
The office blocks above, the jaundice sheen
Of street light on the paving stones below,
Then there, there I’d look and find in all these things
The painting of the palette of infinity,
And all around the Time would crack and drop
Away, that Caesar in the Thames-side reeds
Would lead his men, the wharves of Rotherhithe
Would crowd with Indian hulls disgorging gold
And spice, the East End burn with falling bombs;
And yet unburnt, untouched, I’d walk the way
Of Old Street and the City Road, and all
The graves of Bunhill Fields would break,
The dead upheave, and all about the guildsmen
Of their former trades would go, the clerks and monks
And priests once underground their former cloisters find,
The merchant come from Italy, the earl
And Garter Knight, the alderman and bargeman
And the beggar seeking scraps, all raised,
All come about, and in their eye
The aspect of eternity.
All this is mine, all this it might be mine
And from it could I possibly live
If I put off all that I have and am
And was, and in my noble royal rags
With all the power to raise and hold the world
And see below and to the height,
This could I have
If I could be a dervish in the streets
Of London town.

Bijan Omrani

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Former Classics Editor for Panorama.