Amy Levy

Welcome back to the Richmond Read-along! Today we’re reading a poem by Amy Levy, a British author and poet in the late 1800s. From an early age Levy was an outspoken feminist with little interest in the traditional expectations for women, and she consistently criticised the individualism and preoccupation with societal climbing of the British middle classes she was entrenched in. While still at school she wrote “Xantippe,” from the point of view of Socrates’ wife. She continued to write from the point of view of women and to critique their place in society throughout her life.

Only the second Jewish woman to attend Cambridge, Levy left after two years when her first collection of poetry was published. Throughout her life she made friends with other feminist and activist women of the time, many of whom were also writers. Her work was highly praised by figures such as Oscar Wilde and WB Yeats. Even the criticisms of her novel “Reuben Sachs” were not about her skill as a writer but attacks on her perceived anti-Semitism by those who missed the broader implications and criticisms of society woven through it, and the ultimate framing of Jewish community as a source of strength and familial bonding.

Today we are reading “Ballade of an Omnibus:”

“Some men to carriages aspire;
On some the costly hansoms wait;
Some seek a fly, on job or hire;
Some mount the trotting steed, elate.
I envy not the rich and great,
A wandering minstrel, poor and free,
I am contented with my fate—
An omnibus suffices me.

In winter days of rain and mire
I find within a corner strait;
The ’busmen know me and my lyre
From Brompton to the Bull-and-Gate.
When summer comes, I mount in state
The topmost summit, whence I see
Crœsus look up, compassionate—
An omnibus suffices me.

I mark, untroubled by desire,
Lucullus’ phaeton and its freight.
The scene whereof I cannot tire,
The human tale of love and hate,
The city pageant, early and late
Unfolds itself, rolls by, to be
A pleasure deep and delicate.
An omnibus suffices me.

Princess, your splendour you require,
I, my simplicity; agree
Neither to rate lower nor higher.
An omnibus suffices me.”

You can find this poem and others from Levy at Project Gutenberg. Members of Richmond upon Thames Borough Libraries can read more about Levy at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online.

Join us tomorrow for the next Richmond Read-along!