Books Magazine

Direction Seawards

By Ashleylister @ashleylister
Oh time out of joint! This week’s Saturday Blog appears on a Sunday. Blame chaos at Euston yesterday evening [trains delayed for three hours by a fatality on the line] and then No-Fi at the Inn…
“The river flows, it flows to the sea” as the Byrds’ Ballad [of Easy Rider] told it; “And wherever the river flows, that’s where I want to be.”
Rivers – givers of life, nurseries of civilization and possibly the first great human highways; and if one went with the flow rather than beating against the tide, the direction was invariably downhill and seawards.
Millions have chosen to travel so, through the millennia: to migrate by water as a means of escape, as a search for a better life, in response to a spirit of adventure. Whether prompted by necessity or curiosity, this launching of oneself into the unknown was in many cases a brave and dangerous undertaking, an alliance of frailty with powerful natural forces, an act of faith, a pioneering sortie with wholly unpredictable results.
In the 18th and early 19th centuries migration was predominantly westwards. Impoverished farming families struggling to make a living from poor soil would risk everything for a new start in a better land. Thus it was that hundreds of men, women and children from Lancashire’s hills and dales would sell all they had to book passage by boat to the fabled New World. At a time when the Wyre River was still navigable by quite large boats, they would embark with a few belongings and provisions for a hazardous voyage and set sail from the banks of the Wyre – next stop the eastern seaboard of America if they were lucky.
Today’s poem is my favorite from the half-dozen or so I wrote as part of the Walking On Wyre creative writing project last summer. It was prompted by seeing a stretch of the Wyre River at Garstang than put me in mind of Millais’ famous painting of drowned Ophelia - and the idea of transposing and transforming Hamlet and Ophelia from royal Denmark to rural Lancashire with a back-drop of unrequited love and emigration fell into place.
Direction Seawards
Garstang's Ophelia
In a twisting of the tumbling Wyre
inspirited by April showers,
between steep banks of cicely
smelling of aniseed and myrrh,
lies swollen Ophelia tangled in willow,
the river her bed, its ripples her pillow.
Romance brought low by poverty,
her melancholy prince, sad suitor,
set sail on Wyre tide, New Worlds to discover.
She wove forget-me-nots into a lover's favour
and cried hot tears to see him go,
quick with the child he'd never know.
Swallows skim now across her liquid grave,
wild ramson bows its head above the flow.
Her honeyed tresses look almost alive
in this rolling rinse of rusty peat water,
swirling in eddies - as if she's trying to break free
to follow her Hamlet down Wyre to the sea.
Thanks for reading. Have a good week, S :-) Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to Facebook


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