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’

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