written for a waterways restoration society

WH Auden meets Betjeman


Where barges once plied

A trade on the waters

While bright-painted boats

And pink-cheeked young daughters

Sailed past with a smile

There’s now plastic bottles

And cycles and mattresses,

old baby rattles


The stream that was full,

Uncluttered and pouring

Is sluggish and muddy,

Congested. The mooring

Where vessels were tied

Is matted and thick

And clogged up with wire,

Old fence posts and brick


The waterway proper

Is filled in with rubble.

Choked of its life,

It breathes the odd bubble

From something that’s lying

Trapped under the scum

A dead dog or rat,

A leaky old drum?


And further along

Beneath the old bridges

Lie bedframes and bicycles

TVs and fridges

Microwaves, radios

Little girl’s dollies

Fishing rods, railings

Tripods and trolleys    


For man is a doer

He dug all these courses

He built all the boats

He reared the horses

He made all the engines

He found all the fuel

He ran the rat-race

To technology’s rule


Water carried the goods

As no other means could:

Stone, coal and pig iron

Flour, corn, wheat and wood

Providing the channels

To power the nation

Now we are seeking

To make restoration


Bring back some health

To our ways and our waters.

Unblock the culverts

(bring back the daughters!)

Free the lock gates

Unshackle the flows

Give water its life

And see how it grows









With Eyes Whose Panes…


a little more dramatic!



With eyes whose panes obscure a curtained depth

of shadows hid in secret lampless rooms,

I see a growing resonance of death:

the damp, decay, and stillness of the tomb.


The silent, prowling panther of the night

is threading through the sunbeams’ golden bars.

My eyes engage the swiftly-fading light

to wrest it from the secret, sullen stars.


In desperation, fearing worse than life,

My resolution strengthens its control.

I sniff the air. But, slicing like a knife,

A damp, dead stillness enters in my soul.







Ice lying on the lake,

And frost upon the bough

Snow-smitten heathen land!

There’s little here enow


Crake sounding on the air

The picking’s poor they call

Our stone-enmounded hof

Will not see joy in hall


Invected icy ground

Step-slipping our foray

And each new hidden place

Engrails our current prey





I’d Like to Die in Spring


I'd like to die in spring

when summer’s in the air,

and birds are on the wing

and new life everywhere.

… to die with dignity

in calm and gentle grace,

completeness in my soul

and warm sun on my face.


I’d like to die alone,

with beauty all around,

my head held in the air,

my feet firm on the ground,

while sitting on a chair

in a garden in the south,

and savouring the taste

of cherries in my mouth.


The path that I have trod

will end before the year.

I’d like to die in spring

with no regret or fear.


John F Griffiths 2007