The river and the marshes of the Lea are commemorated in poems and songs from Elizabethan love poems to bawdy music hall ditties.
Prothalamion by Edmund Spenser
So ended she; and all the rest around
To her redoubled that her undersong,
Which said their bridal day should not be long.
And gentle echo from the neighbour ground
Their accents did resound.
So forth those joyous birds did pass along,
Adown the Lee, that to them murmured low,
As he would speak, but that he lacked a tongue,
Yet did by signs his glad affection show,
Making his stream run slow.
And all the fowl which in his flood did dwell
Gan flock about these twain, that did excel
The rest so far as Cynthia doth shend
The lesser stars. So they, enranged well,
Did on those two attend,
And their best service lend,
Against their wedding day, which was not long:
Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.
Spenser's poetry contributed to the extraordinary literary renaissance that took place in England during the last two decades of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
His most important work was The Faerie Queene (written in 1590) that refers to ‘the wanton Lee, that oft does loose his way'.
His poem, Prothalamion, (published in 1596) was written to celebrate a double betrothal ceremony for the two daughters of Edward Somerset, Earl of Worcester. It took place during Spenser’s journey to London in the latter half of 1596. The work references the 'joyous' swans flying down the Lee. The whole poem can be read here.
Spenser's full biography is available here.
'A Tale of Two Swannes' describes the imagined journey of swans along the River Lee from 'the fruitful fields of Hertfordshire' to its confluence with the Thames: 'The marriage of two Rivers of great name'.
It was written by William Vallans and published in 1590.
From hence by Hackney, Leyton, and old-Foord,
They come to Stratford, cal'd also the Bowe:
And underneath the bridge that thwartes the streame And partes the shires of Middlesex, and Essex both
The lyric of the famous music hall song performed by Gus Elen was written by Edgar Bateman with music by George Le Brunn.
Now it really is a very pretty garden.
And Chingford on the Eastward can be seen.
With a ladder and some glasses
You can see to Hackney Marshes,
If it wasn't for the houses in between.
Oh it really is a wery pretty garden
And Chingford to the eastward could be seen;
'Wiv a ladder and some glasses,
You could see to 'Ackney Marshes,
If it wasn't for the 'ouses in between.
Hear Gus Elen sing live!
Lian is a Chinese dissident poet. His Lee Valley Poems collection, written in Chinese with English translations by UK poets, celebrates the Lee Valley, Hackney and Stoke Newington.
Sebastian Barker's poem, 'In the Heart of Hackney', was featured in the 'Poems on the Underground' series. A poem for the day is selected at random from the series and published each day on the Transport for London web site.
The Faerie Qveene. Disposed into Twelue Books, Fashioning XII. Morall vertues (London: Printed for William Ponsonby, 1590)--contains Books I-III.