By Black Waterside

Happily the South East Walker magazine (a quarterly) has just published this poem in its December 2016 issue. Written in a previous December, “By Black Waterside” celebrates the harsh beauty of the wild and watery place that is Romney Marsh. The sight of vibrant birdlife in that dark, wintry landscape is hard to forget.

By Black Waterside 

Clouds lower, doubled in still water. Above,

Beneath, an iron-clad heron leaves its feasting ground,

Flaps skyward, neck retracted, clanking. Fierce

Yellow eyes, yellow beak pierce the predatory wind.

 

Pattering madly in the mud, its shy white egret

Cousin searches for a fishy morsel then, hearing us,

Takes to immaculate wings. How

Such perfection’s born of river slime, who knows.

 

Where water brims, grasses stir, rushes skirr

To the ripple of wind’s fingers, to the whisper of wave rings

Flung wildly: marsh and air and water linked—

As wedded as the bride and bridegroom swans.

 

Swans! Now silkweed parts, and under a lazy sun

Bending to horizontal in stark November light

Great birds sail, murmur and whistle; stretch pale necks

Like candlefire into the dark, inverted arcs

 

Of gothic lancets formed of sedge and reed.

Just so … swans’ down blows down, snows down.

Curls, swirls of feathers rest, nest and turn on brown silt banks.

By black waterside, swans flex white wings like seraphim.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

© Image copyright Val Lloyd

swan-c-val-lloyd

 

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Winchester Trilogy

Followers of this blog over the last year know that our challenging, gorgeous trek along the whole length of the South Downs Way is over. We celebrated the end of our 100-mile westward walk by spending several days in historic Winchester.  Here follow some of our impressions, starting with the Winchester City Mill.

TO WINCHESTER

I      The City Mill

Upstream the water unreels diamond clear from its cress-bed source
Over chalk-beds white as sifted flour:
Bird-dipped, sliding, slipping in silence
It glitters in its shallow course.

Upstream the water drifts in a dream,
Soundless, limpid below blue-green willows:
Swan-swum, trailing skeins of water weed,
Beaded with pennywort, with ferns fountaining,

But then—above the gabled red-brick mill—divides.

One side flows smooth, the other rough-grained like wood,
Braided suddenly in faster-flowing fibres;
In light-shot silver bands it runs
In a hissing murmur, strands twisting ever tighter,
Drawn inexorably through the deepening sluice.
Soon it rushes, slices over tiny stones,
Over long-lost Saxon buckles, Roman coins
And stream-washed rainbow trout bones
Drawn into the foaming white churn of the mill,
Roiling, boiling & the great black wheel
Turning, toiling, with the flap, the slap of blades
Clacking, iron cogs clicking
And the bright wet-shine of water on old oak,
And the rattle of pulley chains
As a cascade of wheat-grains
Descends to feed the yawning hopper.
Now Winchester’s city mill roars.
Old timber floors tremble
At the guttural growl, the groaning grind
Of mountainous grit-stones turning…

But then—below the thundering mill—
The sundered water joins its twin tides once again.

Downstream the river drifts in a dream,
Soundless, limpid below blue-green willows:
Swan-swum, trailing skeins of water weed,
Beaded with pennywort, with ferns fountaining.

© Lizzie Ballagher

2015-09-08 11.02.302015-09-08 10.37.25

 

 

A little light in darkness

In all the years of walking beside water, I’ve never managed to capture a swan on camera. Does this poem do the trick?

By Black Waterside (on Romney Marshes)

Clouds lower, doubled in still water. Above,
Beneath, an iron-clad heron leaves its feasting ground,
Flaps skyward, neck retracted, clanking. Fierce
Yellow eyes, yellow beak pierce the predatory wind.

Pattering madly in the mud, its shy white egret
Cousin searches for a fishy morsel then, hearing us,
Takes to immaculate wings. How
Such perfection’s born of river slime, who knows.

Where water brims, grasses stir, rushes skirr
To the ripple of wind’s fingers, to the whisper of wave rings
Flung wildly: marsh and air and water linked—
As wedded as the bride and bridegroom swans.

Swans! Now silkweed parts, and under a lazy sun
Bending to horizontal in stark November light
Great birds sail, murmur and whistle; stretch pale necks
Like candlefire into the dark, inverted arcs

Of gothic lancets formed of sedge and reed.
Just so … swans’ down blows down, snows down.
Curls, swirls of feathers rest, nest and turn on brown silt banks.
By black waterside, swans flex white wings like seraphim.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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