The Severn was brown and the Severn was blue –
not this-then-that, not either-or,
no mixture. Two things can be true.
The hills were clouds and the mist was a shore.
The Severn was water, the water was mud
whose eddies stood and did not fill,
the kind of water that’s thicker than blood.
The river was flowing, the flowing was still,
the tide-rip the sound of dry fluttering wings
with waves that did not break or fall.
We were two of the world’s small particular things.
We were old, we were young, we were no age at all,
for a moment not doing, nor coming undone –
words gained, words lost, till who’s to say
which was the father, which was the son,
a week, or fifty years, away.
But the water said earth and the water said sky.
We were everyone we’d ever been or would be,
every angle of light that says You, that says I,
and the sea was the river, the river the sea.
by Philip Gross
© Philip Gross, 2009.
This poem is from The Water Table, a new collection by Philip Gross. It was published by Bloodaxe Books in November 2009 and won the 2009 T.S. Eliot Prize.
A powerful and ambiguous body of water lies at the heart of these poems, with shoals and channels that change with the forty-foot tide. Even the name is fluid – from one shore, the Bristol Channel, from the other Môr Hafren, the Severn Sea.
Philip Gross’s meditations move with subtle steps between these shifting grounds and those of the man-made world, the ageing body and that ever-present mystery, the self. Admirers of his work know each new collection is a new stage; this one marks a crossing into a new questioning, new clarity and depth.
For more information about Philip Gross and to see a video of him reading from The Water Table, click here.
Founded in Newcastle in 1978, Bloodaxe Books is one of Britain’s leading independent poetry publishers. Internationally renowned for quality in literature and excellence in book design, its authors and books have won virtually every major literary award given to poetry. Details of all Bloodaxe’s publications, plus sample video and audio clips of poets reading their work, can be found here.
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