Thomas Campey and the Copernican System

Tony Harrison

The other day all thirty shillings' worth
Of painfully collected waste was blown
Off the heavy handcart high above the earth,
And scattered paper whirled around the town.

The earth turns round to face the sun in March,
he said, resigned, it's bound to cause a breeze.
Familiar last straws. His back's strained arch
Questioned the stiff balance of his knees.

Thomas Campey, who, in each demolished home,
Cherished a Gibbon with a gilt-worked spine,
Spengler and Mommsen, and a huge, black tome
With Latin titles for his own decline:

Tabes dorsalis; veins like flex, like fused
And knotted flex, with a cart on the cobbled road,
He drags for life old clothing, used
Lectern bibles and cracked Copeland Spode,

Marie Corelli, Ouida and Hall Caine
And texts from Patience Strong in tortoise frames.
And every pound of this dead weight is pain
To Thomas Campey (Books) who often dreams

Of angels in white crinolines all dressed
To kill, of God as Queen Victoria who grabs
Him by the scruff and shoves his body pressed
Quite straight again under St. Anne's slabs.

And round Victoria Regina the Most High
Swathed in luminous smokes like factories,
These angels serried in a dark, Leeds sky
Chanting Angina-a, Angina Pectoris.

Keen winter is the worst time for his back,
Squeezed lungs and damaged heart; just one
More sharp turn of the earth, those knees will crack
And he will turn his warped spine on the sun.

Leeds! Offer thanks to that Imperial Host
Squat on its thrones of Ormus and of Ind,
For bringing Thomas from his world of dust
To dust, and leisure of the simplest kind.

NOTES: Tony Harrison is a poet and classical scholar from Leeds. Thomas Copernicus identified the sun as the centre of the solar system in 1543. Edward Gibbon, Oswald Spengler and Theodor Mommsen are historians famous for their writings on civilizations. Tabes dorsalis is a progressive degenerative disease. William Copeland and Josiah Spode were businessman associated with a specific style of Staffordshire pottery known as Spode. Marie Corelli, Ouida, Hall Caine and Patience Strong were British novelists of ephemeral fame. Angina pectoris is chest pain associated with heart disease. Crinoline is a stiff petticoat. St Anne's is Leeds' Catholic cathedral. Ormus was an extensive Middle East kingdom, Ind is an abbreviation of India.