A 15th Century Poem:

“To The City of London”



by Johannah Turner, Literary Editor


When I happened upon this poem and passed it on to the Trumpet, John saw its potential to remind us how closely related we Americans are to our English cousins by history, language and culture.  He also recognized that it gave us an opportunity to salute Londoners under siege just as they reached out to all Americans, perhaps especially to us New Yorkers, on September 11th. 


The current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine features an article on Victimhood and Resilience.  The occasion for addressing these issues is the July 7 suicide bombing in London.  The subject is how traumatized survivors of such disasters can best be helped or allowed to heal.  Surprisingly, the new thinking is that the immediate provision of psychological counseling to the survivors of a disaster does not necessarily accelerate or enhance their healing in the long run and may in fact impede it.  Survivors have shown themselves to be stronger, more practical, resourceful and resilient than we are sometimes tempted to believe, and it is suggested that we celebrate and encourage resilience and pride rather than dwell on trauma and victimhood. 


In describing how well—how defiantly and even cheerfully—Londoners have picked up the pieces and carried on since the July 7 attacks, the authors quite naturally evoked the "Blitz spirit" that has been legendary in the English-speaking world for half a century:


Before the outbreak of the Second World War, politicians, military commentators, and emergency planners believed that aerial bombing would provoke mass destruction, panic, and a catastrophic collapse in morale. Yet these reactions did not occur.  The Blitz killed 40,000 Londoners, and although there were short periods of considerable fear and disorganization, such a state was the exception, not the rule.


The poem itself is not about crisis and carnage, coping and courage.  It is just about a great city, beloved by its countrymen and dear also to her prodigal children in the New World.


Florence contributed some wonderful images of London and then Lee and Werner worked their production magic.  It all goes together and we hope you will enjoy the poem as much as we editors enjoyed sharing our personal reactions to it with each other.



Text Box: Note:
   At first glance, the poem might appear difficult to read.  But if you look at the words more closely, and especially if you read the poem aloud (which is just as enjoyable as singing in the shower), you will be able to get past the unfamiliar spelling and appreciate how much the language has remained the same over five whole centuries.  
Thou art the floure of cities
Thou art the flower of cities
In beawtie beryng the crone imperiall
In beauty bearing the crown imperial
Where many a swanne doth swymme with wyngis fare;
Where many a barge doth saile, and row with are,
Where many a swan doth swim with wings fair
Where many a barge doth sail, and row with air





























London from Southwark, painted in about 1650, offers a final glimpse of the City before the Great Fire of 1666.




The City of London today - one of the world's great financial centres.


"To the City of London"

by William Dunbar (1456?-1513?)


 London, thou art of townes A per se.

Soveraign of cities, semeliest in sight,

Of high renoun, riches, and royaltie;

Of lordis, barons, and many goodly knyght;

Of most delectable lusty ladies bright;

Of famous prelatis in habitis clericall;

Of merchauntis full of substaunce and myght:

London, thou art the flour of Cities all.


Gladdith anon, thou lusty Troy Novaunt,

Citie that some tyme cleped was New Troy,

In all the erth, imperiall as thou stant,

Pryncesse of townes, of pleasure, and of joy,

A richer restith under no Christen roy;

For manly power, with craftis naturall,

Fourmeth none fairer sith the flode of Noy:

London, thou art the flour of Cities all.


Gemme of all joy, jasper of jocunditie,

Most myghty carbuncle of vertue and valour;

Strong Troy in vigour and in strenuytie;

Of royall cities rose and geraflour;

Empresse of townes, exalt in honour;

In beawtie beryng the crone imperiall;

Swete paradise precelling in pleasure:

London, thow art the floure of Cities all.


Above all ryvers thy Ryver hath renowne,

Whose beryall stremys, pleasaunt and preclare,

Under thy lusty wallys renneth down,

Where many a swanne doth swymme with wyngis fare;

Where many a barge doth saile, and row with are,

Where many a ship doth rest with toppe-royall.

O! towne of townes, patrone and not-compare:

London, thou art the floure of Cities all.


Upon thy lusty Brigge of pylers white

Been merchauntis full royall to behold;

Upon thy stretis goth many a semely knyght

In velvet gownes and cheynes of fyne gold.

By Julyus Cesar thy Tour founded of old

May be the hous of Mars victoryall,

Whos artillary with tonge may not be told:

London, thou art the flour of Cities all.


Strong be thy wallis that about the standis;

Wise be the people that within the dwellis;

Fresh is thy ryver with his lusty strandis;

Blith be thy chirches, wele sownyng be thy bellis;

Riche be thy merchauntis in substaunce that excellis;

Fair be thy wives, right lovesom, white and small;

Clere be thy virgyns, lusty under kellis:

London, thow art the flour of Cities all.


Thy famous Maire, by pryncely governaunce,

With swerd of justice the rulith prudently.

No Lord of Parys, Venyce, or Floraunce

In dignytie or honoure goeth to hym nye.

He is exampler, loode-ster, and guye;

Principall patrone and roose orygynalle,

Above all Maires as maister moost worthy:

London, thou art the flour of Cities all.