Of Time and Tide: What Canute Understood – second of a series of new blogs

Two things surprised me recently: to learn that my understanding of the old tale of King Canute supposedly trying to stop the tide was completely back to front; and to discover that the poet Lachlan MacKinnon has written a poem (“Canute”) which gives a wry, dry voice to this long departed king. So here’s my take on the king, the tide, and that thousand years ago time.

II          What Canute Understood            1030 AD

 

Not bound for glory, poor Canute!

And yet it was not as legend claims

(That he, a fool, had raised his kingly arm to stop the tide).

Instead, when waters lapped the throne’s high legs,

His followers found out—exactly as their canny lord intended—

That human power is pure delusion.

 

No throne, no ruler, no human hand or foot

Can turn a rampant tide, return the time.

Aye, rocks & stones may shore up ruins,

Though only for a while;

For, iron-tipped, time pushes forward—feathered, swift—

And a ruinous tide rolls on, rolls in.

Text © Lizzie Ballagher, image © Jamie House

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Of Time and Tide: Reculver first of a series of new blogs

It’s that time of year to look back—and ahead. The ancient ruins at Reculver (where the 2,000 year old Roman fortification walls are still visible) always make me reflect: both on change and on constancy.

I           Reculver (Regulbium)                   43 AD

 

Bound for Londinium on proud horses,

Ruling, inscribing harsh lines from Rome

Across the Alps, the land, the sea,

The emperor’s men brought in their inky tide:

Decrees scrolling, unrolling in waves of change.

 

Captives hauled the flints they mined with antlers

(Hacked out, split in twain, cracked out)

To build the straight, square garrison a mile from water

So their conquerors could watch the Wantsum, guard the sea

And scare poor British wretches into slavery.

 

They raised up ramparts, parapets,

With remorseless order: a flinty masonry

Of angles, sharp corners,

Cold geometry—

And calculated mastery.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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