Waterloo Bridge: Panufnik (1943)

Waterloo Bridge moon: Panufnik

A London moon, the composer thinks, high over the river like a silver sound reverberating in one corner of the sky, while beneath it the ground of the river keeps flowing. The moon is so clear that it casts shadows; each ripple on the river has its dark side, its bright side, just like the moon. On the bridge, the top of the stone parapet is white, light enough for him to read a newspaper, should he wish to do such a thing. But the solid shadow behind the wall is dark, so dark that his own feet are invisible down there on the pavement.

Why is it so quiet, so silent except for the music of the moon and the water, which only sounds in his head, anyway? I don’t know. Full moon, the river lit up like a sinuous runway, a perfect map from the sky, but no bombers. Is it over already, in the small hours? Or not tonight? Another part of the war?

The ruins of old raids look ancient under the moon; rubble of Persepolis, Carthage, Luxor, Troy. Where the city once stood there are fields again, stony ground, round the great dome still shining back at the moon like a dim pearl. Only the moon and the river seem the same.

He leans on the parapet, still, looking down at the water with its silver-embossed ripples, its moving darkness. Small clouds cross the moon’s face, thin sketchy ones which mesh it in their gauze, mask but don’t hide it. He hears the clouds, against the river-sound and moon-song, overlaid like a whispering interference, a murmured net.

The three kinds of sounds thread in and out, merge and diverge, gather and part, as the clouds cross and pass, the moon sinks, the river runs. It’s lonely on the bridge, desolately beautiful, cold. The same moon, he thinks, shines down on Poland, too.

So the lullaby starts then, or rather he realises that this old tune from home is somehow all part of the other music, maybe sounds with it or within it or beyond it, with a lilt of sleepiness and solace that imagines a mothering river, a nightlight moon.

Can one lone exiled human make a music to comfort these ruined cities and countries, lull them to calm, name the flowing river and sinking moon and fleeting clouds as patient neighbours, watching over? He hears it all now. Lullaby.

As the moon sets, with only its gleam left to nacre the sky where it passed, Big Ben strikes its hours. The bell should go in too, he decides, as he turns to walk homewards; the measure of time in the city, the promise of dawn. At the end.


by Frances Bingham, from London Panopticon (The Pottery Press, 2020)

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