The Writings on the Wall by Thomas Marks

Thomas Marks

The Writings on the Wall


They are putting Tennyson up in the Olympic village. Last year, the final line of ‘Ulysses’ – ‘To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield’ – prevailed in a public competition to select ‘Winning Words’, which means it will be emblazoned on a purpose-built wall on the Stratford site by the time the immense, sweaty circus comes to town this summer. It’s meant as an uplifting mantra for the athletes as they set about winning and losing, a taking-part-that-counts riff on the Pindaric victory ode. Clare Balding, the BBC sports presenter and member of the judging panel, said the line ‘encapsulated the endeavour, the glory and the dance with failure that Olympic sport entails’. A press release for a recent tie-in event sounded neither so convincing nor so convinced: ‘Why did we choose the words of a pirate hat wearing, big bearded Victorian giant’, it asked, ‘as a motto for London 2012?’

Well, partly in a pragmatic effort to promote poetry – and in this regard, the installation is welcome. I often feel that London’s buildings and monuments are somehow inimical to poetic inscriptions (whenever I hurry past Sue Hubbard’s ‘Eurydice’ in that cold underpass at Waterloo, for instance). Even so, Victoria’s

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