25 October 2011

What dreams the Land?

Below this ridge long isolated by river and by sea, lie the wide flat lands
of the Island, stretching from sunset to sunrise.
 Here you may find half a million years of history, an unending narrative
of a landscape, and the chronicles of its tribes.
The lion and wooly mammoth once roamed this  land of chalk and flint,
while rhino and aurochs grazed on these rough grasses.
As the wandering hominins of Europe fished our teaming waters
and trapped the two-ton straight-tusked elephant,
 the Island lay quiet, contented in the young sun’s pale morning, dreaming
 of a burgeoning landscape and a satisfied people.

Two thousand years of husbandry, three thousand years of trade,
the land flourished, the sea was abundant with fish.
But under the wide open sky and the eerie scream of the the great gulls
the people were not at ease with their Island home.
They had watched the Roman legions tramp across their small fields,
fled the long Northland ships at anchor in their harbours,
endured the plague that stalked their children and laid waste their lives.
They dreamed of relief from the cruelty of greedy manors,
of an end to the tyranny of Augustine’s proud successors, and of peace.
The Island dreamed of Death hovering close by its shores.

In times of a new plenty, the corn tall and golden, the apple trees’ branches
weighed down by a rich harvest, the Island’s modest
masters grew comfortable and fat - their only enemy the Revenue men.
Farmers dreamed of barns stacked high, their wives of gowns
rich in velvet and silk, seaside landladies dreamed of the quiet winter house
and the basement kitchen free from the clamour of bells.
But the labourer displaced by new machines, the coachman and the carter
their trade lost to the ubiquitous monarchs of the iron road,
the old sailor outrun by steam, all dreamed of days never to come again.
The Island trembled and dared not sleep.

Men ripped coal from the land, tall chimneys spewed soot and fumes, 
rivers were poisoned and man-made light overwhelmed
the sky’s darkness snuffing out the starry candles, the sailor’s celestial
chart and the promise that the sun always will return.
The roar of aluminium  pterosaurs drowned out the skylarks’ empyrean song
and the rising sea plucked impatiently at crumbling chalk.
Like some beneficent Kraken arising slowly from its deep watery slumber,
we awake and discover the land anew, and understand now
our part as stewards of God’s creation, not lords - but humble tenants.
The Island gives thanks, and dreams of Paradise.

Amen. So may it be.


Hunting Aurochs from 'The Canterbury Chronicle', a mural painted  by Oliver Postgate for Eliot College, the University of Kent
Louisa Bay Broadstairs,  from old postcard