Author’s note: The Saxon referred to in the fourth stanza is the anonymous author of the Anglo-Saxon elegy known to us as The Seafarer. It almost certainly wasn’t written anywhere near Exmouth (my home town, where this poem is set; specifically speaking, it refers to the Exe estuary), but parts of it may have been inspired by somewhere similar.
The sun’s young face is veiled in mourning weeds;
The steel scar dulls to grey, bereaved of light.
And by the ever-rolling stream away,
Remorseless engineering speeds from sight.
The mind turns north, but ever to the west
The sands lie out and beckon to the eye
While harsh, the touting voices of the gulls
Extol the River with each vaunting cry.
A captive ferry sails a moveless sea;
Its purpose rusting in the cold embrace
Of all the golden flotsam of the tide
On which her sister’s earth-bound shadows pace.
Since musing Saxon heard the curlew’s sound
A vain steel river we have made to bear
Our springs to human oceans, to be drowned.
When rust stains rails to match the russet banks
And I have joined the Saxon in the tomb,
Some mind may take the swan’s cold song again
Yet on that Water flows; its stately course
Reckless artifice, defying time
One moment’s action cannot yet elide.
So quick are we, who watch the empty sands
That their long vigil seems eternal sleep;
Yet some all-seeing, ever-living eye
Might look upon the River’s haste and weep.