First thing we notice
upon entering the reservoir’s secret sphere:
an echo and an emptiness
as if the chambers of the human brain
had been removed, scooped out to leave
the hollow of a barren skull.
I won’t say ‘no birds sing’
for you may hear their cheerful chatter
in their nests above the dam
below, the rim betrays the lake’s mishandling
by human interference:
waters fail to fall
the rim grows broader.
And wasn’t there a vanished village here?
A Brigadoon? At Mardale Green, at Wythburn and at Armboth?
See as the water dries, nature reveals the voices
that The Corporation tried to drown
before their lands and livelihoods were blown
to smithereens, all in the name of progress.
100 scant years down the line, we read
in the silty braille of the lakebed
just how far this progress
has taken us.
As yet, the Water Board has not seen fit
to tell us to ‘Keep Out:’
we trawl the mudflats and the rocks
Everywhere, as sunlight hints
pottery in fragments glints of china-white
and willow-pattern blue.
Here’s a jug from the Dun Bull Inn:
here’s to us, and all that we have done
here’s a bench outside the church
hear the parishioners sing their final service.
Hope, as fragile as the butterfly-wing dance
over reclaimed grasslands, peacefully extends
to all the gentle creatures:
while we remain, precariously in between,
just crossing and recrossing
this broad riverbed, of artifice.
Written for earthweal
This week’s challenge is entitled ‘An atmospheric river roars at us.’ Brendan requests that we:
‘give voice to these atmospheric rivers. You don’t have to write about them per se, but try to register the evolving magnitude they suggest. Maybe it’s disturbing a love poem. Or flooding a burnt Earth poem. Or howling in the storm wind an extinct animal poem. Or some new mash of energies that no one has managed yet to name. You decide, but fill your poem’s sails with a blast of something akin to the hurl of atmospheric plumes.’
I chose to write something inspired by recent visits to the reservoirs of Thirlmere and Haweswater with my youngest son.
About Thirlmere and Haweswater
Two of the Lake District’s major lakes are also major reservoirs. They were dammed, in the late nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries respectively, by the Manchester Corporation. The act of building the dams created two much larger lakes which would (and still do) supply water to the City of Manchester, some 50 or 60 miles away.
Of the two reservoirs, Haweswater is perhaps the better known, or more notorious, as the villagers of Mardale Green on the southern shore of the lake were evicted from their homes and relocated elsewhere. The village was then blown up and flooded as the lake levels rose. As well as houses and farmsteads, there was a hotel (The Dun Bull Inn – pictured left) and a church:
The Thirlmere scheme was also opposed by locals, as it would destroy two small settlements (Armboth and Wythburn) and change the character of the landscape forever.
The Vanished Villages reappear
Ironically, with the lack of rainfall in recent months, and the threat of drought conditions, the reservoir levels have fallen so low that the vanished villages have re-appeared. I was drawn to these sites, as I knew of them, and they had attained a kind of legendary status in my mind. My son and I found ample evidence of former human habitation and artifice (see gallery below). I wanted to write a poem about the tensions between art and artifice: we praise nature with one, while attempting to tame her with the other. But isn’t that the paradox of the vanity of human wishes? And if it is, to quote Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale, ‘how beautiful anyway.’
This turned out to be a rather long post! For those of you who stayed until the end, some photographs of our explorations: