The Lost Sea
You have stood on a quayside in the flat grey morning
Watching the rotting pierhead swim to view
Through mist on the estuary, as if it moved,
As if the sea still rose beneath its boards.
And heard at noon the brittle seaweed crunch
Under the slipping shoes of a tired child
Shortcutting from the village, along the path
Salt has not lined for many a high tide now.
The little railway faltered long ago
Waving antennae over the mud banks
That turned it back in smooth indifference.
With nothing on the other side to reach
It settles now for grass and butterflies.
Ships must have called here often, for on the pier
Shreds of tyres still cling that once stove off
The vulnerable white sides of pleasure boats.
Among the stinking debris in that hut
Beneath the swarm of flies on a dead cat
Remains of nets lie rolled.
Family men in inland garden suburbs
Collected maybe pebbles and precious glass
From what was once a shore.
And knew the names of birds flown South long since,
And cadged sweets from the trippers when they came
And owned the place again when they had gone.
Nobody bombed the place. There was no army
Trampled its heart out. Nor did the nearby town
Account for this desertion.
Merely it was:
The land built up here, or the sea receded.
Over the years the fish bypassed the shallows
And those that came the fishermen could not get.
High tide beyond their reach, and the cold moon
Hauled only over mud.
The sea forsook.
Nothing to do that would not have been useless.
So we did nothing
But watch that shore dies as the sea receded
Jenny Joseph reading 'The Lost Sea' as part of a BBC programme called New Poetry which was broadcast on 23rd August 1959 (produced by George Macbeth). Recording used by permission of the BBC - from 'The Lost Sea' - from Selected Poems (Bloodaxe, 1992) used by permission of Johnson and Alcock. 'Reproduced with permission of Johnson & Alcock Ltd’