Category Archives: River verse

The Oystercatcher

Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers

The previous post focussed on the centuries old tradition of shell-fishing in the estuary but we have competition from nature.

Wander along the Teign estuary and you can’t fail to notice one of the iconic birds of the river – the oystercatcher.  The flashes of their bright orange bills sprinkle the Salty and the mudflats exposed on the ebbing tide.

The Oystercatcher
(Keats Ghost)

Coax a cockle from its cradle of sand,
muscle a mussel off a seaweed strand,
shuck open an oyster if you can …..
….. the oystercatcher can.

The oystercatcher’s tough enough
shuffling and scuffling each seaweed tuft,
sieving the mud and sand and stuff
of the Salty at low tide.

The shrill, the noise of oystercatchers
stilting boisterous on the Salty’s thatch,
thrilling at the bounteous catch
of fruits de mer ….. with samphire on the side.

With mincing gait and shrug of the wing
they’re cocks-of-the-walk as they sift and sing,
drifting where the mussels cling
and the cockles and oysters hide.

Coax a cockle, muscle a mussel,
shuck open an oyster if you can …..
….. the oystercatcher can.

Check out alsoThe Oystercatchers Cafe

Mussel Boat

Mussel Boat

Mussel Boat

We have had some verse and song about oysters and cockles on the river Teign.  Now it’s the turn of the mussel.  Mussels have been harvested from early times, either as a cheap source of food or as bait for fishermen.  One particular mussel farm on the river can be traced back almost a thousand years.

Born into a family of musselmen, Syd Hook recalled in 2006: ’There were mussel beds all up the river.  It would take 10 men working on a sprat swain, and to keep the crew together, the owner would have mussels up the river to keep them from catching the sprats.’  Nowadays there are just two or three mussel men remaining.

Once, the seine boats were used for collecting mussels – they were fitted with sails to get to the mussel beds.  Now the farming is done from a mussel boat.

Mussel Boat
(Virginia Griem)

One of those pearly mornings
when the mist falls light on the river
and there is no sky,
the mussel boat is out.
It floats in that space neither water nor air
where mirage appear.
Yet it’s real enough,
seeding the channels,
laying down spat small as a fingernail
on the mussel beds.
Raising the racks of sharp edged shells,
bearded and barnacled, for sorting and grading.
The dead, the broken, crushed in a
mess of orange and black;
mussel flesh smeared
on the deck with
the mud and the rust.
There is no town – no bridge – no sea
on this cold spring morning,
only a mussel boat
cloaked in a mist of mother-of-pearl.

For more information check out:

Mussels on the Teign ….

Beaver Soul 27

Beaver Soul

Beaver Soul

We continue the theme of the Teign and come up to date now with a poem by an American author and poet, Judy Hogan.  This poem is number 27 in a book called Beaver Soul, a collection of meditations evoked by a closely observed world of nature ranging from the Haw River in North Carolina to the Russian countryside of Kostroma, and ending on the banks of the River Teign in Devon, England.

This was written on October 13th 1992 by the river Teign near Sandy Ford.  So this is not strictly within the Teignmouth area but it is inspired by the river that makes Teignmouth what it is today.  It is the first of three poems inspired by the Teign in the Beaver Soul collection; the others will be posted in future weeks.

Beaver Soul 27
(Judy Hogan)

And what is love?  To be human
is to allow It to pierce you with
Its tender arrows, though you
feel certain you will die.
Only we don’t die.  We live
more vividly.  Life without Love
is like a stream bed through
which no water runs; like a
house without a clock that
chimes the hours so musically
that you wait eagerly for the
next one.  Or like an afternoon
sitting on the bank of a small
river without sun to intensify
the green of grasses and mosses,
to lift the warm brown of the
sand, patient between the black
hulks of the rocks, into view.
You can have all the love you
want if you aren’t greedy; if
you can live with a certain number
of absurd hours in every day;
if you understand that sarcasm
on the beloved’s tongue is his
way of keeping himself from
aching too much; if you’re
clear about where your own
heart has rooted itself, no
matter how many miles from
home you are.  After suffering,
and then paradox, and then
more suffering; after you’ve
yielded all the fruits, and watched
the leaves turn brown and drop
off, one after another; after
your blood has had to retreat
from the terrible, frozen wastes
of winter, and Zeus never pelted
his Greeks with ice like you’ve
had your soft skin pelted, then
you learn the truth of Love:
how it lives with its own whimsy
and its own secret power, beyond
thought, beyond reason, beyond
understanding.  It doesn’t even
require to be fed or given to
drink in the long famine.
Drought It already knew about and
was prepared for.  Memory held
It safe below the water’s surface.
You might be full of despair
but your heart, its roots
tucked into Love’s power, never
lost faith.  It accepts Evil
and Good, the Hate that Love can
mask His face with.  It bides
Its time.  And Time, for Love,
is redemptive.  The river has to
keep rushing, but the stones and
their mosses stay.  The sand will
be there.  The roots are persistent.
They know what we forget:
that only such tender moments
of clear-eyed seeing into each
other’s souls matter.  Only
those times last.  The rest passes,
like water.  The sand may shift,
but it stays; it knows.  The rocks
have their memory, too.  And
every year the graceful grasses
stretch up because the sun,
of course, leans down.

Copyright© Judy Hogan

If you want to know more, check out:

Judy Hogan …..
Beaver Soul …..

Poly-Olbion

Poly-Olbion Cover Page

Poly-Olbion Cover Page

It’s been a quiet few months on the blog site but now the book is completed and back from the printers it is time to get back to some more regular blogging here ….. and there is a backlog of poems to catch up on!

I have a selection of new pieces related to the river Teign, starting with one that has its origins back in 1598 – Poly-Olbion.  Written by Michael Drayton, it was otherwise known as “A chorographicall description of all the tracts, rivers, mountaines, forests, and other parts of this renowned isle of Great Britaine and is an extraordinary poetic journey through the landscape, history, traditions and customs of early modern England and Wales.

It is written as a series of 30 ‘Songs’ in alexandrine couplets totalling 15000 lines.  No I am not going to reproduce the whole of it, only the section of 10 lines relating to the river Teign (or ‘Ting’ as it’s described in the Song).  You’ll also see a reference to the river Lemon which flows into the Teign at Newton Abbot.

Poly-Albion – extract

‘Ting (whose banks were blest
By her beloved nymph dear Leman) which addrest,
And fully with herself determined before
To sing the Danish spoils committed on her shore,
When hither from the east they came in mighty swarms,
Nor could their native earth contain their numerous arms,
Their surcrease grew so great, as forced them at last
To seek another soil, as bees do when they cast;
And by their impious pride how hard she was bested,
When all the country swam with blood of Saxons shed.’

The above extract has been taken from:  Devon, its Moorlands, Streams and Coasts by Rosalind Northcote.

For more information check out:

Poly-Olbion …..
Michael Drayton …..

The Poet and the Boatman

The Ferryman

The Ferryman

Another take on Keats.  How did he cross the river?  How did he reach Arch Brook, Larch Brook, the Combe in Teignhead?  There was no bridge to ease the passage in Keats’ time so you could ford the river at low tide or ….. take the ferry.  How lives cross!  In this poem Deborah Harvey aligns those lives, the poet and that boatman though they’ll never share a jar.  Thanks to Deborah for letting me share this poem.

The Poet And The Boatman
(Deborah Harvey)

Tidal here and salt
the final turn of Teign
before its fretful merging with the sea
creates a harbour in the lee of land,
this curved blood-coloured beach.

Through mist that lifts like linen wraiths
I glimpse the poet stripping off
his white ballooning shirt and britches,
bathing in a manner
far from gentlemanly

the water’s cold, he’ll catch a chill

while over here a boatman’s sanding smooth
a newly mended hull.
He’ll check the caulk is watertight
before he ventures out to rescue souls
condemned to airless death.

Both men are bright-faced,
close in age,
yet they’ll never share a jar
for by the time the boatman’s posted here,
John Keats is twelve years dead.

no one could have saved the poet
from drowning in his blood

Instead the boatman heads for breakfast,
and John is gone with a flap of his red-stained shirt
to flirt with the sleep-soft girls
stirring in their beds
above the bonnet shop.

Want to know more?  Check out:

Deborah Harvey …..

 

Cockleshell Hero

The Salty

The Salty

We’ve had a few poems about the Salty and its inhabitants – the cormorants, oysters, oystercatchers etc.

Here’s another which gives a different view of the shellfish to be found on these low-tide estuarial flats.

COCKLESHELL HERO
(Barbara Hine)

Mussel bound
They sift the Salty
To ply their trade –
The winkle pickers,
The shell seekers –
Here a bucket,
There a spade.

I hitch a ride
On a bit of the Teign
Left behind by the tide –
Free-falling down
To anonymous sand,
A cowering cockle
On a seaweed strand.

They crouch and probe
These mussel men,
Performing amniocentesis
On glorious mud,
And the pile in the bucket
Grows thud by thud.

I open a valve.
‘I’m stale’, I cry –
I know it’s naughty
But it’s worth a try!
The blue shells rattle
Like dead men’s bones
As the buckets pass by…

Blue not white.
Then I’m all right!
Moules Mariniere’s
The dish of the day.
I breathe a bubble.
Cockleshells
Rule OK.

Want to know more?  Check out:

Barbara Hine …..

Shaldon Bridge

Old Shaldon Bridge

Old Shaldon Bridge

In the last post we crossed the Teign by the ferry, as would have Keats.  But in 1827 the longest wooden bridge in the country, almost a third of a mile long, was constructed across the river to join Teignmouth and Shaldon.  The bridge has had a chequered history, suffering the ravages of the environment and shipworm which have caused it to be rebuilt several times.  The bridge is still an iconic feature of the estuary – Muse and the Olympic flame crossed it in 2012.  The views from the bridge are stunning, both across the Salty down to the sea and upriver towards the heights of Dartmoor.  It was the inspiration for this poem by Kim Edwards.

Shaldon Bridge
(Kim Edwards)

There I was across the bay walking not an hour ago.
Now here I am.
If I had stayed where my eyes rest now
time would have moved on
the tide would still have filled the bay.
Spin drift still settled into inland emptiness
Just as now.

Would I have had to run and rush like this tide beneath this bridge
To catch myself here,
To fill the places in me emptied of your presence
My life’s landscape emptied of those I once knew, without knowing as my people
Washed out to that sea and emptied of their own lives
Taken like so much cliff face fallen
On the outgoing tide of Time, that vast majority element
That holds us all within this very moment.

Standing on the bridge my inner eye rests upon places where
The people I lived amongst lived as my organs live
Amongst one another deep within my overcoat of membrane and skin
All who once were part of me and I of them
No more mine now than my own life feels is mine
Stranger in it that I am
Filled with the flotsam and jetsam of other people’s lives
I no longer recognise nor truly fit within my own.

As here I stand now empty, alone
Filled with longing for the home of belonging I once knew
The tides turn, turn once more
Returning I turn, walk on.

Want to know more?  Check out:

Shaldon Bridge …..