‘…coming ashore in the wilds of the Wirral,
whose wayward people both God and good men
have quite given up on…’
Gawain and the Green Knight
trans. Simon Armitage
‘The Norsemen left them in their well-nailed ships,
The sad survivors of the darts, on Dingesmere
Over the deep sea back they went to Dublin.’
The Battle of Brunanburh
‘Yr wylan deg ar lanw, dioer
Unlliw ag eiry neu wenlloer,
Dilwch yw dy degwch di,
Darn fel haul, dyrnfol heli.
Ysgafn ar don eigion wyd,
Esgudfalch edn bysgodfwyd.
Yngo’r aud wrth yr angor
Lawlaw â mi, lili môr.
Llythr unwaith, llathr ei annwyd,
Lleian ym mrig llanw môr wyd.
Truly, fair seagull on the tide,
the colour of snow or the white moon,
your beauty is without blemish,
fragment like the sun, gauntlet of the salt.
You are light on the ocean wave,
swift, proud, fish-eating bird.
There you’d go by the anchor
hand in hand with me, sea lily.’
Dafydd ap Gwilym, trans. Hopwood
Before this I was a gull.
I flew from the city
over the blue-black estuary, along the shoreline
towards the abandoned lighthouse.
I flew through the wind-farm’s rotating blades.
I flew over the river’s rain-battered sheen,
sodium spots lined up into a pattern
of a peninsula’s edge, fairground-lit,
houses strung along the coast like lanterns,
a black-railed prom stretching to distant
heavy mountains, marshland and flat fields
backing away from the sea wall, grazing cattle,
a long tarmacked path through trees
to the beach and submerged forest
off shore, deep in sand,
shimmering white transparent woods vatic in the waves
and with my gull’s eyes I watch from above,
from up here, on the air currents;
the children are two black dots
running over the shingle from the dark night’s sea
towards a woman on her knees
in the moonlit sand, wide-opened arms
as if she is holding a towel on a summer’s day
though it is a December’s night. Is she me?
I look through her eyes to focus on the children.
A girl, a boy, naked, about six and three:
faces fuzzy around the edges,
with hair and eyes but no definition,
they just keep running over the wet sand,
sea rough behind, outline of a container ship on the horizon.
I try to fly inland towards the ridge
but air currents push me back towards the edge.
I am kneeling, arms outstretched, squinting into darkness,
small pale bodies running towards me.
I am hovering over the shoreline, over the estuary,
children running over wet sand, a woman on her knees,
then she’s walking to dry land, shingle in her boots.
I follow her return towards glass-sharp dunes.
And she drives, her hands fixed on the wheel,
two empty seats in the back of the car,
shadow splashed on ripped upholstery,
seat-belts swinging, turning to the lights,
a three-eyed wolf at the edge of the track,
and the road ahead wet and sandy,
pitted with last week’s storm.
An easterly catches and I am among flooded fields,
webbed feet tacked onto moulding wood
as the vehicle rolls out of view
to the cross-roads by the motorway.
I’m flung north,
each wing stretched into darkness
above a house with one light in the top floor window,
and there she is parking in the driveway,
closing metal gates on the semis across the street,
opening the front door, curtains full on cold glass.
I can see her unpacking a bag on a table, turning
on a radio, staring out of the gap
in brocade straight at me
here in the blue-blackening edges of the sky,
suited to this rain that starts again
and up and away
behind her, behind me into the curve of the land
about a mile beyond her home, car, fence,
and further out at sea
tide turns, a stone wall rises
from beneath green swell, marks out
a harbour wall, long smothered
by salt, where a ship is moored,
unloaded, a clinker low on fine water, well-nailed
steam-bent oak and pegs, a carved
dragon’s head on its prow;
voluminous sea subsides to sand
then marsh, then earth, brown-furrowed mud
and chariot-tracks, mastheads clutter distance,
a barge steadies on the tidal flow.
Sunlight blasts the scene with coppery emulsion.
She closes floral curtains; waves filter detritus.
Drowned plastic bottles sink into coarse sand.
© Eleanor Rees, Extract from long poem 'Blue Black', Arne’s Progress