Of Artifice. #poetry #earthweal

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
evicted villagers
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
for treasure.

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
welcoming hands
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 last church service at Mardale Green

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:

53 thoughts on “Of Artifice. #poetry #earthweal

Add yours

  1. Human hands flooded this place, erasing centuries, perhaps millennia, of occupation. Earthly energies bring it back, lifting the waters away with drought. Folklore of the British Isles is rich with tales of drowned towns, their lights still burning at night. Damming must have seemed another form of enclosure to the villagers chased away. Their ghosts sing in the artifacts you rummage. But the aura here is of hope. Well done –

  2. Nature revealing the voices that the Corporation tried to drown is really apt. The folly of destroying a village to dam a lake that is now drying up and revealing remnants of the village is such a sad tale. What a mess we have made. Thanks for your poem, your notes and the photos………sad stories everywhere.

    1. Interestingly, the water board still don’t like to say too much about the lands and livelihoods they stole, preferring to focus on the water they provide. I wonder what will happen if supplies start to dwindle…

  3. Reading your poem was a rich experience. The imagery, woven with history, is exquisite. The interesting photos and background were a bonus! Wonderful work, Ingrid!

  4. All that we have done to alter the landscape deliberately…but nature returns with a vengeance, reclaiming its own. Haunting in so many ways.

  5. I am amazed at the recent findings in many places as the water levels have fallen dangerously low. Lake Mead has revealed ghostly findings of human remains and boats. Buried secrets now revealed. I enjoyed your delicately balanced poetry. This part is visual, I can see the remains of another time.

    Everywhere, as sunlight hints
    pottery in fragments glints of china-white
    and willow-pattern blue.

  6. This poem is so beautiful, so wonderfully expressed, I believe it is one of your best poems, Ingrid! I was reminded of the great English poets of the past. Thank you for including the history behind it.

  7. People like Robin Wall Kimmerer begin to teach us how to regain what humans have trashed with our: “. . . echo and an emptiness
    as if the chambers of the human brain
    had been removed”

    This poem moves me, as its beautiful movement contrasts with the splinter-cause of its grief..

  8. This is a magnificent poem, Ingrid…beautiful and poignant! Lovely photos. What a great, memorable outing for your son!

    A few years ago when Florida’s Lake Okeechobee levels fell, Native American artifacts were exposed.

    The Salton Sea is a nearly vanished body of water in California…a seaside ghost town there has become an art museum.

    Thank you, Ingrid, for keeping environmental issues a focus of your writing! <3

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: