This collection Copyright © 2005, J C Eade



In Honour of the City of London, William Dunbar (1465?-1530?), 1501: 4

Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802, William Wordsworth (1770-1850): 4

Westminster 1941, F S Boas. 5

Mortlake Bridge, Fred S Thacker, 1920. 5


The River’s Tale, Rudyard Kipling, 1911. 6


Lines written near Richmond, upon the Thames at Evening, William Wordsworth, (1790): 7

From Lyrics of the Heart, Alaric Watts, 1851. 7


The Swan Inn, Ditton, Theodore Hook (1834): 7


Long night succeeds thy little day, Thomas Love Peacock (1810): 9


Runnymede, Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936): 10


Eton Boating Song, William Johnson Cory, c. 1863. 11

Ode On A Distant Prospect Of Eton College, Thomas Gray: 11

MARLOW... 14

A Marlow Madrigal, J. Ashby-Sterry (1886): 14


Skindle’s In October,      J. Ashby-Sterry, (1886): 16

Below Boulter’s Lock, William Johnson Cory, 1868. 16


Lines Written on the death of Sir Stanley Spencer, RA: 17

The Jolly Young Watermaids, anon, Punch, [sounds like Ashby-Sterry] 18


A Shower Song, Hurley Lock, June, J Ashby-Sterry (1886): 18


The Tiny Trip – Medmenham, J. Ashby-Sterry (1886): 20

The Merry Young Water-Girl, J Ashby-Sterry (1886): 21


Hambledon Lock,  J. Ashby-Sterry (1886): 22


Steam-Launches On The Thames James Kenneth Stephen (1859-1892): 23

Henley on Thames, John Betjeman, 1948. 24

A Lay Of The “Lion” At Henley, J Ashby-Sterry (1886): 24

Henley Bridge, July, J Ashby-Sterry (1886): 25

Henley In July, J Ashby-Sterry (1886): 26

A REGATTA RHYME, from Punch, anon, [ but sounds like Ashby-Sterry! ] 27

Scratched on a window pane at the Red Lion: William Shenstone 1714 – 1763. 28


A Canoe Canzonet, Bolney Backwater, July, J. Ashby-Sterry (1886): 30

Bolney Ferry, J Ashby-Sterry (1886): 30


A Riverside Luncheon, J Ashby-Sterry (1886): 32


Miss Sailor-Boy, Mapledurham Lock, August, J Ashby-Sterry (1886): 33


A Streatley Sonata, J Ashby-Sterry (1886): 34

Taken In Tow, Pangbourne, Streatley & Goring, J Ashby-Sterry (1886): 35


On the Poem Tree, Wittenham Clumps, Joseph Tubbs, 1844. 36


Abingdon Bridge. 37


The Burden Of Itys, Oscar Wilde: 38

Ferry Hinksey, Laurence Binyon, 1909. 46


Medley Weir 46


Binsey Poplars. 46


The Telling of Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll 48

A school trip to Godstow (from Summoned by Bells) John Betjeman. 49

Rosamund the Fair 49

Godstow from The Genius of the Thames, Thomas Love Peacock, 1810. 50


The Evenlode, Hilaire Belloc. 50


Eynsham poaching Song, Henry Leach: 50


Bab-Lock-Hythe by Laurence Binyon (1869-1943): 52


Love is enough, William Morris. 53

What better place, William Morris. 53


A Summer Evening Churchyard, Lechlade, Gloucestershire. Percy Bysshe Shelley: 53


Accolade, like lemonade © Suzanne de Freitas 2002. 54

from The Waste Land T S Eliot: 54

On the New Buildings, Magdalen College, Hurdis with additions John Betjeman. 55


L’inconnue, J Ashby-Sterry, (1886): 56

Tamasá Reaches, Jenyth Worsley: 57

Prothalamion , “Sweet Thames run softly”,Edmund Spenser: 58

The Waste Land, Poem III, The Fire Sermon, T S Eliot: 62

A Riverain Rhyme, J Ashby-Sterry, (1886): 65

Blankton Weir, J Ashby-Sterry (1886): 65

Below the Weir, Patrick Chalmers, 1925. 67

The song that the River sang, Fred S Thacker, 1920. 68

There is a hill beside the silver Thames, Robert Bridges, 1890. 69

His Tears to Thamesis, by Robert Herrick (1591-1674) 71

O world invisible, Francis Thompson  1859-1907. 72

The Thames Rivers, © G K Payne 2003. 73

Thames Passport, to Roy and Cécile Curtis, 1970. 74

The Scholar-Gipsy, Matthew Arnold, 1822-1888. 74

From Thyrsis, Matthew Arnold, 1867. 79

From The Legend of Robert, Duke of Normandy, Michael Drayton, 1596. 79

From Polyolbion, Michael Drayton, 1622. 80

From Cooper’s Hill, Sir John Denham, 1642. 81

From the Growth of Love, Robert Bridges, 1876. 81



In Honour of the City of London, William Dunbar (1465?-1530?), 1501:

Above all rivers thy river hath renowne,
Whose beryl streames, pleasant and preclare,
Under thy lusty walles runneth down;
Where many a swanne doth swimme with winges fair,
Where many a barge doth sail, and row with oar,
Where many a ship doth rest with top-royal.
O town of townes, patron and not compare,
London, thou art the flower of Cities all.


Upon thy lusty Brigge of pillars white

Been merchauntis full royall to behold;

Upon thy stretis goeth many a semely knight

All clad in velvet gownes and cheynes of gold.

By Juliu Caesar the Tour founded of old

May be the hous of Mars victoriall,

Whos artillery with tonge may not be told.

London, thou art the flower of Cities all.


Strong be thy wallis that about thee stanis;

Wise be the people that within thee dwells;

Fresh is thy river with his lusty strandis;

Blith be thy churches, wele sowning be thy bellis;

Riche be thy merchauntis in substaunce that excellis;

Fair be thy wives, right lovesom, white and small;

Clere be thy virgins, lusty under kellis;

London, thou art the flower of Cities all.


Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802, William Wordsworth (1770-1850):

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!


Westminster 1941, F S Boas

‘Earth has not anything to show more fair’:

So Wordsworth sang enraptured with the sight

Of Westminster clad in morning light

Of beauty, radiant and beyond compare;

Its towers, domes, temples glittering in the air,

And nought above them but the birds in flight.

But now the sky-borne engines of the night

Have rained their bolts with thundering and flair.

Ah! Could the singer take his stand again

Upon the bridge, how measureless his pain

To see the lovely vision maimed and marred –

But he would hear the ‘mighty heart’ still beat -

Undaunted, undismayed, and smiling greet

A Westminster whose soul could not be scarred.

F S Boas

Mortlake Bridge, Fred S Thacker, 1920

Grey Thames at flood in balance swung,

Grey gulls scared mewing overhead,

The chill grey wind a requiem said,

And over all the grey sky hung.


Grey ghosts of memory paced with me

As down to Mortlake slow I went;

Grey brooding, grey presentiment:

A grey and cheerless company.


Then looking backward up the stream,

Within the bridge’s sombre frame

Of iron piers a vision came

That seemed the fabric of  dream.


The little leaning Strand, where rest

Old barges when their work is done,

A sudden glory of the sun

Lit, like and Island of the Blest


Ethereal on my wondering sight

It flashed from out a golden mist;

To fire its scarlet roofs were kist,

Its walls and road a curve of light.


To Mortlake then I took my way

With kindled soul and quickened will:

A touch of sun brought god from ill;

A gleam from God gave gold for grey.



The River’s Tale, Rudyard Kipling, 1911

Twenty bridges from Tower to Kew

Wanted to know what the River knew

For they were young and the Thames was old,

And this is the tale that the river told –


‘I walk my beat before London Town,

Five hours up and seven down.

Up I go till I end my run

At Tide-end-town, which is Teddington.

Down I come with the mud in my hands

And plaster it over the Maplin sands.


But I’d have you know that these waters of mine

Were once a branch of the River Rhine

When hundreds of miles to the East I went

And England was joined to the Continent


I remember the bat-winged lizard birds,

The Age of Ice and the mammoth herds,

And the giant tigers that stalked them down

Through Regent’s Park into Camden Town.


And I remember like yesterday

The earliest Cockney who came my way

When he pushed through the forest that lined the Strand,

With paint on his face and a club in his hand.

He was death to feather and fin and fur.

He trapped my beavers at Westminster.

He netted my salmon, he hunted my deer,

He killed my herons off Lambeth Pier.

He fought his neighbour with axes and swords,

Flint or bronze, at  my upper fords,


While down at Greenwich for slaves and tin,

The tall Phoenician ships stole in,

And North Sea warboats, painted and gay,

Flashed like dragon-flies, Erith way;

And Norsemen and Negro and Gaul and Greek

Drank with the Britons in Barking Creek,


And life was gay, and the world was new,

And I was a mile across at Kew!

But the Roman came with a heavy hand,

And bridged and roaded and ruled the land,

And the Roman left and the Danes blew in –

And that’s where your history books begin!’



Lines written near Richmond, upon the Thames at Evening, William Wordsworth, (1790):

Glide gently, thus forever glide,
O Thames! that other bards may see,
As lovely visions by thy side
As now, fair river! come to me.
Oh glide, fair stream! for ever so;
Thy quiet soul on all bestowing,
'Till all our minds forever flow,
As thy deep waters now are flowing.


Vain thought! – Yet be as now thou art,

That in thy waters may be seen

The image of a poet’s heart,

How bright, how solemn, how serene!

Such as did once the Pot bless

Who murmuring once a later ditty,

Could find no refuge from distress

But in the milder grief of pity.


Now let us, as we float along,

For him suspend the dashing oar;

And pray that never child of song

May know that Poet’s sorrows more.

How calm!  How still!  The only sound,

The dripping of the oar suspended!

- The evening darkness gathers round

By virtue’s holiest powers attended.

From Lyrics of the Heart, Alaric Watts, 1851

Let poets rave of Arno’ stream

And painters of the winding Rhine

I will not aska lovelier dream,

A sweeter scene, fair Thames, than thine;

An ‘neath a summer’s sun’s decline

Thou wanderest at thine own sweet will

Reflecting from thy face divine

The flower-wreathed brow of Richmond Hill.


The Swan Inn, Ditton, Theodore Hook (1834):


When sultry suns and dusty streets

Proclaim town’s winter season,

And rural scenes and cool retreats

Sound something like high treason –

I steal away to shades serene,

Which yet no bard has hit on,

And change the bustling, heartless scene

For quietude and DITTON.


Here lawyers, free from legal toils,

And peers, released from duty,

Enjoy at once kind nature’s smiles,

And eke the smiles of beauty:

Beauty with talent brightly graced,

Whose name must not be written,

The idol of the fane, is placed

Within the shades at DITTON.


Let lofty mansions great men keep –

I have no wish to rob ‘em –

Not courtly Claremont, Esher’s steep,

Nor Squire Combe’s at Cobham.

Sir Hobhouse has a mansion rare,

A large red house at Whitton,

But Cam with Thames I can’t compare,

Nor Whitton class with DITTON.


I’d rather live, like General Moore,

In one of the pavilions

Which stand upon the other shore,

Than be the king of millions;

For though no subjects might arise

To exercise my wit on,

From morn till night I’d feast my eyes

By gazing at sweet DITTON.


The mighty Queen whom Cydnus bore,

In gold and purple floated,

But happier I, when near this shore,

Although more humbly boated.

Give me a punt, a rod, a line,

A snug arm-chair to sit on,

Some well iced punch, and weather fine,

And let me fish at DITTON.


The ‘Swan’, snug inn,  good fare affords

At table e'er was put on

And worthier quite of loftier boards

Its poultry, fish and mutton

And whilst sound wine mine host supplies

With beer of Meux or Tutton

Mine hostess with her bright eyes

Invites to stay at DITTON.


Here, in a placid waking dream,

I’m free from worldly troubles,

Calm as the rippling silver stream

That in the sunshine bubbles;

And when sweet Eden’s blissful bowers

Some abler bard has writ on,

Despairing to transcend his powers,

I’ll ditto say for DITTON.

Theodore Hook (1834)


Long night succeeds thy little day, Thomas Love Peacock (1810):

Just next to St. Nicholas Church, Shepperton, is the solitary grave of Mary Love Peacock. She was the daughter of Thomas Love Peacock and died when ten months old. (1810?) Peacock wrote a poem to his baby daughter which he had inscribed on a headstone on the grave.  Jerome K Jerome makes a humorous reference to it!.

   Long night succeeds thy little day,

O blighted blossom! Can it be
That this gray stone and grassy clay
   Have closed our anxious care of thee?


The half-formed speech of artless thought
   That spoke a mind beyond thy years;
The song, the dance, by nature taught;
   The sunny smiles, the transient tears;


The symmetry of face and form,
   The eye with light and life replete;
The little heart so fondly warm;
   The voice so musically sweet.


These, lost to hope, in memory yet
   Around the hearts that loved thee cling,
Shadowing with long and vain regret
   The too fair promise of thy spring.


Runnymede, Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936):

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
What say the reeds at Runnymede?
The lissom reeds that give and take,
That bend so far, but never break,
They keep the sleepy Thames awake
With tales of John at Runnymede.

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Oh, hear the reeds at Runnymede:

'You musn't sell, delay, deny,
A freeman's right or liberty.
It wakes the stubborn Englishry,
We saw 'em roused at Runnymede!

When through our ranks the Barons came,
With little thought of praise or blame,
But resolute to play the game,
They lumbered up to Runnymede;

And there they launched in solid line
The first attack on Right Divine,

The curt uncompromising "Sign!'
They settled John at Runnymede.

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Your rights were won at Runnymede!

No freeman shall be fined or bound,
Or dispossessed of freehold ground,
Except by lawful judgment found
And passed upon him by his peers.
Forget not, after all these years,
The Charter signed at Runnymede.'


And still when mob or Monarch lays
Too rude a hand on English ways,
The whisper wakes, the shudder plays,
Across the reeds at Runnymede.
And Thames, that knows the moods of kings,
And crowds and priests and suchlike things,
Rolls deep and dreadful as he brings
Their warning down from Runnymede!


Eton Boating Song, William Johnson Cory, c. 1863

Jolly boating weather,

And a hay harvest-breeze;

Blade on the feather,

Shade off the trees,

Swing, swing, together,

With your bodies between your knees,

Swing, swing, together,

With your bodies between your knees.


Skirling past the rushes,

Ruffling o’er the weeds,

Where the lock-stream gushes,

Where the cygnet feeds,

Let us se how the loving cup flushes,

At supper on Boveney meads,

Let us see how the loving cup flushes,

At supper on Boveney meads.


Harrow may be more clever,

Rugby may make more row,

But we’ll row on for ever,

Steady from stroke to bow.

And nothing in life shall sever

The chain that is round us now,

And nothing in life shall sever

The chain that is round us now.


Twenty years hence this weather,

May tempt us from office stools,

We may be slow on the featyher,

And seem to the boys ‘old fools’,

But we’ll still swing together

And swear by ‘the best of schools’,

But we’ll still swing together

And swear by ‘the best of schools’.


Others will fill our places,

Dress’d in the old light blue;

We’ll recollect our races,

We’ll to the flag be true,

And youth will still be in our faces

When we cheer for an Eton crew,

And youth will still be in our faces

When we cheer for an Eton crew.

Ode On A Distant Prospect Of Eton College, Thomas Gray:

Ye distant spires, ye antique towers,
That crown the watery glade,
Where grateful Science still adores
Her Henry's holy shade;
And ye, that from the stately brow
Of Windsor's heights th' expanse below
Of grove, of lawn, of mead survey,
Whose turf, whose shade, whose flowers among
Wanders the hoary Thames along
His silver-winding way.


Ah happy hills, ah pleasing shade,
Ah fields beloved in vain,
Where once my careless childhood strayed,
A stranger yet to pain!
I feel the gales, that from ye blow,
A momentary bliss bestow,
As waving fresh their gladsome wing
My weary soul they seem to soothe,
And, redolent of joy and youth,
To breathe a second spring.

Say, Father Thames, for thou hast seen
Full many a sprightly race
Disporting on thy margent green
The paths of pleasure trace,
Who foremost now delight to cleave
With pliant arm thy glassy wave?
The captive linnet which enthral?
What idle progeny succeed
To chase the rolling circle's speed,
Or urge the flying ball?


While some on earnest business bent
Their murm'ring labours ply
'Gainst graver hours, that bring constraint
To sweeten liberty:
Some bold adventurers disdain
The limits of their little reign,
And unknown regions dare descry:
Still as they run they look behind,
They hear a voice in every wind,
And snatch a fearful joy.


Gay hope is theirs by fancy fed,
Less pleasing when possest;
The tear forgot as soon as shed,
The sunshine of the breast:
Theirs buxom health of rosy hue,
Wild wit, invention ever-new,
And lively cheer of vigour born;
The thoughtless day, the easy night,
The spirits pure, the slumbers light,
That fly th' approach of morn.


Alas! regardless of their doom
The little victims play!
No sense have they of ills to come,
Nor care beyond today:
Yet see how all around 'em wait
The Ministers of human fate,
And black Misfortune's baleful train!
Ah, show them where in ambush stand,
To seize their prey, the murd'rous band!
Ah, tell them they are men!

These shall the fury Passions tear,
The vultures of the mind,
Disdainful Anger, pallid Fear,
And Shame that skulks behind;
Or pining Love shall waste their youth,
Or Jealousy with rankling tooth,
That inly gnaws the secret heart,
And Envy wan, and faded Care,
Grim-visaged comfortless Despair,
And Sorrow's piercing dart.


Ambition this shall tempt to rise,
Then whirl the wretch from high,
To bitter Scorn a sacrifice,
And grinning Infamy.
The stings of Falsehood those shall try,
And hard Unkindness' altered eye,
That mocks the tear it forced to flow;
And keen Remorse with blood defiled,
And moody Madness laughing wild
Amid severest woe.


Lo, in the vale of years beneath
A grisly troop are seen,
The painful family of Death,
More hideous than their Queen:
This racks the joints, this fires the veins,
That every labouring sinew strains,
Those in the deeper vitals rage:
Lo, Poverty, to fill the band,
That numbs the soul with icy hand,
And slow-consuming Age.


To each his suff'rings: all are men,
Condemned alike to groan;
The tender for another's pain,
Th' unfeeling for his own.
Yet ah! why should they know their fate?
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies.
Thought would destroy their paradise.
No more;-where ignorance is bliss,
'Tis folly to be wise.


A Marlow Madrigal, J. Ashby-Sterry (1886):


O, BISHAM BANKS are fresh and fair,

      And Quarry Woods are green,

And pure and sparkling is the air,

Enchanting is the scene !

I love the music of the weir,

As swift the stream runs down,

For, O, the water’s deep and clear

That flows by Marlow town !


When London’s getting hot and dry,

And half the season’s done,

To Marlow you should quickly fly,

And bask there in the sun.

There pleasant quarters you may find –

The “Angler” or the “Crown”

Will suit you well, if you’re inclined

To stay in Marlow town.


I paddle up to Harleyford,

And sometimes I incline

To cushions take with lunch aboard,

And play with rod and line.

For in a punt I love to laze,

And let my face get brown;

And dream away the sunny days

By dear old Marlow town !


I go to luncheon at the lawn,

I muse, I sketch, I rhyme;

I headers take at early dawn,

I list to All Saints’ chime.

And in the river, flashing bright,

Dull care I strive to drown –

And get a famous appetite

At pleasant Marlow town !


So when, no longer, London life

You feel you can endure;

Just quit its noise, its whirl, its strife,

And try the “Marlow-cure” !

You’ll smooth the wrinkles on your brow

And scare away each frown –

Feel young again once more, I vow,

At quaint old Marlow town !


Here Shelley dreamed and thought and wrote,

And wandered o’er the leas;

And sung and drifted in his boat

Beneath the Bisham trees.

So let me sing, although I’m no

Great poet of renown –

Of hours that much too quickly go,

At good old Marlow town !



Skindle’s In October,      J. Ashby-Sterry, (1886):

OCTOBER is the time of year;

For no regattas interfere,

The river then is fairly clear

Of steaming “spindles”

You then have space to moor your punt,

You then can get a room in front

Of Skindle’s.


When Taplow Woods are russet-red,

When half the poplar-leaves are shed,

When silence reigns at Maidenhead,

And autumn dwindles

‘Tis good to lounge upon that lawn,

Though beauties of last June are gone

From Skindle’s.


We toiled in June all down to Bray,

And yarns we spun for Mab and May;

O, who would think such girls as they

Would turn out swindles?

But now we toil and spin for jack,

And in the evening we get back

To Skindle’s.


And after dinner – passing praise –

‘Tis sweet to meditate and laze,

To watch the ruddy logs ablaze;

And as one kindles

The post-prandial cigar,

My friend, be thankful that we are

At Skindle’s.

Below Boulter’s Lock, William Johnson Cory, 1868

The aspen grows on the maiden’s bank,

Down swoops the breeze on the bough,

Quick rose the gust, and suddenly sank,

Like wrath on my sweethert’s brow.

The tree is caught, the boat dread nought,

Sheltered and safe below;

The bank is high, and the wind runs by,

Giving us leave to row.


The bank was dipping  lower and lower,

Showing the glowing west,

The oar went slower, for eiter rower

The river was heaving her breast.

That sunset seemed to my dauntless steerer

The lifting and breaking of day,

That fluh on the wave to me was dearer

Than shade on a windless way.


Lines Written on the death of Sir Stanley Spencer, RA:


 Here, in the beauty of this River Village,

God gave a man some vision of His Light,

He saw the Glory, and, within his Parish,

Sought to interpret it for our delight.


In simple faith, this fortunate Immortal

Nurtured his talent, exercised his art,

Touching the cold grey canvasses with beauty,

Borne on his brush the pictures in his heart.


See with your own small eyes, his world around you,

Walk through his lanes and sit beneath his trees.

Can you see Christ, as he did, in a boater?

Can you hear God, as he did, in the breeze?


See how the man, one of a million soldiers,

Paints them in dearest detail on his walls,

Shows us the mire and misery of battle,

Echoes the empty brag of bugle calls.


Thousands have seen and walked the humble gardens,

The leafy lanes, and river paths he trod.

The places in which everyone sees beauty, 

Are where he painted Mary, and saw God.


We must be glad that he has seen things for us,

Revealed his memories, and portrayed his mind.

Those whom he knew rejoice because they knew him,

And mourn all anonymous mankind.


 The Jolly Young Watermaids, anon, Punch, [sounds like Ashby-Sterry]

And have you not read of eight jolly young watermaids,

Lately at Cookham accustomed to ply

And feather their oars with a deal of dexterity,

Pleasing the critical masculine eye?

They swing so truly and pull so steadily,

Multitudes flock to the river-side readily:-

It’s not the eighth wonder that all the world’s there,

But this watermaid eight, ne’er in want of a stare.


What sights of white costumes!  What ties and what hatbands,

‘Leander Cerise’! We don’t wish to offend,

But are these first thoughts with the dashing young women

Who don’t dash too much in a spurt off Bourne End?

Mere nonsense, of course! There’s no ‘giggling and leering’ –

Complete ruination to rowing and steering; -

‘All eyes in the boat’ is their coach’s first care,

And ‘a spin of twelve miles’ is as naught to the fair.



A Shower Song, Hurley Lock, June, J Ashby-Sterry (1886):


My heart was light and whole aboard –

As I sculled swift by Harleyford

The rain began to patter –

But when I saw in Hurley Lock

That Naiad in the gingham frock,

‘Twas quite another matter !


The banks are soft with mud and slosh,

And shiny is each mackintosh,

Each hat and coat well soaken:

My spirits droop, and as I scan

That beauty in a trim randan,

I fear my heart is broken !


She hath a graceful little head,

Her lips are ripe and round and red,

Her teeth are short and pearly;

And on a rosy sun-kissed cheek

Her dimples play at hide-and-seek,

Within the lock at Hurley !


I strive to make a mental note,

The while she lounges in her boat

Beneath the big umbrella.

I wonder if she’s Gwendoline,

Or Gillian or Geraldine,

Or Sylvia, or Stella?


Is she engaged to Stroke or Bow?

I would they could assure me now

She loves to flirt with others !

Will stalwart Sculls e’er claim her hand?

How gladly would I understand

Her crew are naught but brothers !


Her hat with lilies is bedight

Her voice is low, her laugh is light,

Her figure slight and girly.

How cheerfully I’d take a trip,

With such a Pilot for my ship,

And sail away from Hurley !


I wonder if her heart is true?

I know her eyes are peerless blue,

Long lashes downward sweeping;

A snow-white ruff around her throat,

Beneath her pouting petticoat

A little foot out-peeping.


O, is she wooed and is she won,

Or is she very fond of fun?

I make a thousand guesses !

A sweet young face, so full of hope,

A dainty hand on tiller-rope,

And raindrops in her tresses.


Three tiny rosebuds lightly rest

Within the haven of her breast –

Her locks are short and curly.

The sun is gone !  Down comes the rain !

I leave my heart cleft well in twain

Within the Lock at Hurley !


The Tiny Trip – Medmenham, J. Ashby-Sterry (1886):


She was cargo and crew,

She was boatswain and skipper,

She was passenger too,

Of the Nutshell canoe;

And the eyes were so blue

Of this sweet tiny tripper !

She was cargo and crew,

She was boatswain and skipper !



How I bawled, “Ship, ahoy !”

Hard by Medmenham Ferry !

And she answered with joy,

She would like a convoy,

And would love to employ

A bold pilot so merry:

How I bawled, “Ship, ahoy !”

Hard by Medmenham Ferry !



‘Neath the trees gold and red,

In that bright autumn weather,

When our white sails were spread,

O’er the waters we sped –

What was it she said?

When we drifted together !

‘Neath the trees gold and red,

In that bright autumn weather !



Ah ! The moments flew fast,

But our trip too soon ended !

When we reached land at last,

And our craft was made fast,

It was six or half-past –

And Mama looked offended !

Ah ! The moments flew fast,

But our trip too soon ended !


The Merry Young Water-Girl, J Ashby-Sterry (1886):


I waited last Monday at Medmenham Ferry, well –

Anxious for some one to ferry me o’er:

The man was at dinner, and I could tell very well

He would not return for an hour or more.

So I sat me down and smoked so steadily.

What should I do?  I could not tell readily.

A maiden rowed by who had soft sunny hair,

Whose dimples and eyes were beyond all compare –

This water-girl was so uncommonly fair !


But only to think, as I pondered there wearily,

And gazed at the Abbey, and thought it a bore,

She leant on her sculls, and she offered most cheerily

To row me across to the opposite shore !

I said “How kind !”  She pouted capriciously !

I stepped aboard, and she smiled deliciously !

And rowed off at once with so charming an air,

And feathered her sculls with such neatness and care –

This water-girl was so delightfully fair !


For once I’m in luck – there is not the least doubt of it !

Alas that the voyage is concluded so soon !

The skiff’s by the shore, and I slowly get out of it,

And wish the fair damsel “a good afternoon”.

I raise my hat, and she looks so thrillingly !

I thank her much, and depart unwillingly !

She smiles, and she ripples her soft sunny hair;

And leaves a heart broken beyond all repair !

This Water-Girl was so surpassingly fair !



Hambledon Lock,  J. Ashby-Sterry (1886):

A CAPITAL luncheon I’ve had at the “Lion”,

I’ve drifted down here with the light Summer breeze;

I land at the bank, where the turf’s brown and dry on,

And lazily list to the music of trees !

O, sweet is the air, with a perfume of clover,

O, sleepy the cattle in Remenham meads !

The lull of the lasher is soothing, moreover,

The wind whistles low in the stream-stricken reeds !

With sail closely furled, and a weed incandescent -

Made fast to a post is the swift Shuttlecock –

I think you will own ‘tis uncommonly pleasant

To dream and do nothing by Hambleden Lock !


See a barge blunder through, overbearing and shabby,

With its captain asleep, and his wife in command;

Then a boatful of beauties for Medmenham Abbey,

And a cargo of campers all tired and tanned.

Two duffers collide, they don’t know what they’re doing –

They’re both in the ways of the water unskilled –

But here is the Infant, so great at canoeing,

Sweet, saucy, short-skirted, and snowily frilled.

I notice the tint of a ribbon or feather,

The ripple of ruffle, the fashion of frock;

I languidly laze in the sweet Summer weather,

And muse o’er the maidens by Hambleden Lock !


What value they give to the bright panorama –

O, had I the pencil of Millais or Sandys ! –

The lasses with sunshades from far Yokohama,

The pretty girl-scullers with pretty brown hands !

Next the Syren steams in; see the kind-eyed old colley,

On the deck, in the sun, how he loves to recline !

Note the well –ordered craft and its skipper so jolly,

With friends, down to Marlow, he’s taking to dine.

In the snug-curtained cabin, I can’t help espying

A dew-clouded tankard of seltzer-and-hock,

And a plateful of peaches big babies are trying,

I note, as they glide out of Hambleden Lock !


A punt passes in, with Waltonians laden,

And boatmen rugose of mahogany hue;

And then comes a youth and a sunny-haired maiden

Who sit vis-ŕ-vis in their bass-wood canoe.

Now look at the Admiral steering the Fairy,

O, where could he find a much better crew than

His dutiful daughters, Flo, Nina, and Mary,

Who row with such grace in his trim built randan?

I muse while the water is ebbing and flowing,

I silently smoke and serenely take stock

Of countless Thames toilers, now coming, now going,

Who take a pink ticket at Hambleden Lock !


Steam-Launches On The Thames James Kenneth Stephen (1859-1892): 

Henley, June 7, 1891 –


Shall we, to whom the stream by right belongs,

Who travel silent, save, perchance, for songs;

Whose track's a ripple, - leaves the Thames a lake,

Nor frights the swan - scarce makes the rushes shake;


Who harmonize, exemplify, complete

And vivify a scene already sweet:

Who travel careless on, from lock to lock,

Oblivious that the world contains a clock,


With pace commensurate to our desires,

Propelled by other force than Stygian fire's;

Shall we be driven hence to leave a place

For these, who bring upon our stream disgrace:


The rush, the roar, the stench, the smoke, the steam,

The nightmare striking through our heavenly dream;

The scream as shrill and hateful to the ear

As when a peacock vents his rage and fear;


Which churn to fury all a glassy reach,

And heave rude breakers on a pebbly beach:

Which half o'erwhelm with waves our frailer craft,

While graceless shop-boys chuckle fore and aft:


Foul water-toadstools, noisome filth-stained shapes,

Fit only to be manned by dogs and apes:

Blots upon nature: scars that mar her smile:

Obscene, obtrusive, execrable, vile?

James Kenneth Stephen

Henley on Thames, John Betjeman, 1948

I see the winding water make

A short and then a shorter lake

As here stand I,

And house-boat high,

Survey the Upper Thames.

By sun the mud is amber-dyed

In ripples slow and fat and wide,

That flap against the house-boat side

And flop away in gems.


In mud and elder-scented shade

A reach away the breach is made 

By dive and shout

That circles out

To Henley tower and town;

And ‘Boats for Hire’ the rafters ring,

And pink on white the roses cling,

And red the bright geraniums swing

In baskets dangling down.


When shall I see the Thames again?

The prow-promoted gems again,

As beefy ATS

Without their hats

Come shooting through the bridge?

And ‘cheerioh’ and ‘cheeri-bye’

Across the waste of waters die

And low the mists of evening lie

And lightly skims the midge.

A Lay Of The “Lion” At Henley, J Ashby-Sterry (1886):

 ‘TIS joyful to run from the turmoil of town,

To flee from its worry and bustle;

To put on your flannels and get your hands brown

Is good for the mind and the muscle.

When Goodwood is done and the Season is o’er,

‘Tis pleasant the river to ply on,

Or lounge on the lawn, free from worry and bore,

At the “Lion” !


‘Tis a finely toned, picturesque, sunshiny place,

Recalling a dozen old stories;

With a rare British, good-natured, ruddy-hued face,

Suggesting old wines and old Tories:

Ah, many’s the magnum of rare crusted port,

Of vintage no one could cry fie on,

Has been drunk by good men of the old-fashioned sort

At the “Lion” !


O, sweet is the exquisite lime-scented breeze

Awaft o’er the Remenham reaches !

What lullaby lurks in the music of trees,

The concert of poplars and beeches !

Shall I go for a row, or lounge in a punt,

The stream -  half asleep – throw a fly on?

Or watch pretty girls feed the cygnets in front

Of the “Lion”?


I see drifting by such a smart little crew,

Bedight in most delicate colours,

In ivory white and forget-me-not blue –

A couple of pretty girl scullers.

A pouting young puss, in the shortest of frocks –

A nice little nautical scion-

The good ship she steers, like a clever young “cox”

Past the “Lion” !


I lazily muse and I smoke cigarettes,

While rhymes I together am stringing;

Listen and nod to the dreamy duets

The girls on the first-floor are singing.

The sunshine is hot and the summer-breeze sighs,

There’s scarcely a cloudlet the sky on –

Ah ! Were it but cooler, how I’d moralize

At the ”Lion” !


But who can be thoughtful, or lecture, or preach,

While Harry is flirting with Ella,

Or the red lips of Rosie pout over a peach,

Half hid by her snowy umbrella?

The Infant is drifting down in her canoe,

The Rector his cob canters by on;

The church clock is chiming a quarter past two,

Near the “Lion” !


Shall I drop off to sleep, or moon here all day,

And drowsily finish my ballad?

No ! “Luncheon is ready”, I hear someone say;

“A lobster, a chicken, a salad”:

A cool silver cup of the beadiest ale,

The white table cloth I descry on –

So clearly ‘tis time I concluded my tale

Of the “Lion” !

Henley Bridge, July, J Ashby-Sterry (1886):


On Henley Bridge, in sweet July,

A gentle breeze, a cloudless sky !

Indeed it is a pleasant place,

To watch the oarsmen go the pace,

As gasping crowds go roaring by.


And O, what dainty maids you spy,

What tasteful toilets you descry,

What symphonies in frills and lace,

On Henley Bridge !


But if you find a luncheon nigh –

A mayonnaise, a toothsome pie –

The chance you’ll hasten to embrace !

You’ll soon forget about the Race,

And take your Giesler cool and dry –

On Henley Bridge !

Henley In July, J Ashby-Sterry (1886):

O, COME down to Henley, for London is horrid;

There’s no peace or quiet to sunset from dawn.

The Row is a bore, and the Park is too torrid,

So come down and lounge on the “Red Lion” Lawn !

Then, come down to Henley, no time like the present,

The sunshine is bright, the barometer’s high –

O, come down at once, for Regatta-time’s pleasant,

Thrice pleasant is Henley in laughing July !


Now, gay are the gardens of Fawley and Phyllis,

The Bolney backwaters are shaded from heat;

The rustle of poplars on Rememnham Hill is,

Mid breezes ćstival, enchantingly sweet !

When hay-scented meadows with oarsmen are crowded –

Whose bright tinted blazers gay toilettes outvie –

When sunshine is hot and the sky is unclouded,

O, Henley is splendid in lovely July !


Ah me ! what a revel of exquisite colours,

What costumes in pink and in white and in blue,

By smart canoistes and pretty girl-scullers,

Are sported in randan, in skiff, and canoe !

What sun-shaded lasses we see out a-punting,

What fair gondoliere perchance we espy.

And house-boats and launches all blossom and bunting –

O, Henley’s a picture in merry July !


If it rains, as it may, in this climate capricious,

And Beauty is shod in the gruesome galosh;

While each dainty head-dress and toilette delicious

Is shrouded from view in the grim mackintosh !

We’ll flee to the cheery “Athena” for shelter –

The pâté is perfect, the Giesler is dry –

And think while we gaze, undismayed at the “pelter”,

That Henley is joyous in dripping July !


The ancient grey bridge is delightful to moon on,

For ne’er such a spot for the mooner was made;

He’ll spend, to advantage, a whole afternoon on

Its footway, and loll on its quaint balustrade !

For this of all others, the best is of places

To watch the brown rowers pull pantingly by,

To witness the spleandour, the shouting, the races,

At Henley Regatta in charming July !


When athletes are weary and hushed is the riot,

When launches have vanished and house-boats are gone,

When Henley once more is delightfully quiet –

‘Tis soothing to muse on the “Red Lion” Lawn !

When the swans hold their own and the sedges scarce shiver –

As sweet summer breezes most tunefully sigh –

Let us laze at the ruddy-faced Inn by the River,

For Henley is restful in dreamy July !


A REGATTA RHYME, from Punch, anon, [ but sounds like Ashby-Sterry! ]

On board the “Athena”, Henley-on-Thames

I like, it is true, in a basswood canoe

To lounge, with a weed incandescent;

To paddle about, there is not a doubt

I find it uncommonly pleasant!

I love the fresh air, the lunch here and there,

To see pretty toilettes and faces;

But one thing I hate – allow me to state –

The fuss they make over the Races!







I don’t care you know, a bit how they row,

Nor mind about smartness of feather;

If steering is bad, I’m not at all sad,

Nor care if they swing altogether!

Oh why do they shout and make such a rout,

When one boat another one chases?

‘Tis really too hot to bawl, is it not?

Or bore oneself over the races!







Then the umpire’s boat a nuisance we vote,

It interrupts calm contemplation;

Its discordant tone, and horrid steam moan,

Is death to serene meditation!

The roar of the crowd should not be allowed;

The gun with its fierce fulmination,

Abolish it, pray – ‘tis fatal, they say,

To pleasant and quiet flirtation.







If athletes must pant – I don’t say they shan’t –

But give them some decent employment;

And let it be clear, they don’t interfere

With other folks quiet enjoyment!

When luncheon your o’er, ‘tis really a bore –

And I think it a very hard case is –

To have to look up, from Pâté or cup,

And gaze on those tiresome Races!







Scratched on a window pane at the Red Lion: William Shenstone 1714 – 1763


To thee, fair Freedom! I retire,
From flattery, cards, and dice, and din;
Nor art thou found in mansions higher
Than the low cot, or humble inn.


'Tis here with boundless power I reign,
And every health which I begin,
Converts dull port to bright champagne;
Such Freedom crowns it, at an inn.


 I fly from pomp, I fly from plate,
I fly from Falsehood's specious grin;
Freedom I love, and form I hate,
And choose my lodgings, at an inn.


Here, waiter! take my sordid ore,
Which lackeys else might hope to win;
It buys what courts have not in store,
It buys me Freedom, at an inn.


Whoe'er has travell'd life's dull round,
Where'er his stages may have been,
May sigh to think he still has found
The warmest welcome - at an inn.


A Canoe Canzonet, Bolney Backwater, July, J. Ashby-Sterry (1886):


The leaves scarce rustled in the trees,

And faintly blew the summer breeze;

A damsel drifted slowly down,

Aboard her ship to Henley town;

And as the white sail passed along,

A punted Poet sang this song !


In your canoe, love, when you are going,

With white sail flowing and merry song;

In your canoe, love, with ripples gleaming

And sunshine beaming, you drift along !

While you are dreaming, or idly singing,

Your sweet voice ringing, when skies are blue:

In summer days, love, on water-ways, love,

You like to laze, love, - in your canoe !


In your canoe, love, I’d be a tripper,

If you were skipper and I were mate;

In your canoe, love, where sedges shiver

And willows quiver, we’d navigate !

Upon the river, you’d ne’er be lonely,

For, if you had only room for two,

I’d pass my leisure with greatest pleasure

With you, my treasure, - in your canoe !


In your canoe, love, when breezes sigh light,

In tender twilight, we’d drift away;

In your canoe, love, light as a feather,

Were we together – what should I say?

In sunny weather, were Fates propitious,

A tale delicious I’d tell to you !

In quiet spots, love, forget-me-nots, love,

We’d gather lots, love, - in your canoe !


Bolney Ferry, J Ashby-Sterry (1886):

The way was long, the sun was high,

The Minstrel was fatigued and dry !

From Wargrave he came walking down,

In hope to soon reach Henley town;

And at the “Lion” find repast,

To slake his thirst and break his fast.

Alas ! there’s neither punt nor wherry

To take him over Bolney Ferry !


He gazes to the left and right –

No craft is anywhere in sight,

Except the horse-boat he espied

Secure upon the other side;

No skiff he finds to stem the swirl,

No ferryman, nor boy, nor girl !

He sits and sings there “Hey down derry !”

But can’t get over Bolney Ferry !


No ferry-girl?  Indeed I’m wrong,

For she, - the subject of my song –

So dainty, dimpled, young, and fair,

Is coolly sketching over there.

She gazes, stops, then seems to guess

The reason of the Bard’s distress.

A brindled bull-dog she calls “Jerry”

Comes with her over Bolney Ferry !


She pulls, and then she pulls again,

With shapely hands, the rusty chain;

She smiles, and, with a softened frown,

She bids her faithful dog lie down.

As she approaches near the shore

She shows her dimples more and more.

Her short white teeth, lips like a cherry

Unpouting show, at Bolney Ferry !


With joy he steps aboard the boat,

The Rhymer’s rescued and afloat !

She chirps and chatters, and the twain

Together pull the rusty chain:

He sighs to think each quaint clink-clank

But brings him nearer to the bank !

His heart is sad, her laugh is merry,

And so they part at Bolney Ferry !


The Minstrel sitting down to dine

To retrospection doth incline;

“A faultless figure, watchet eyes

As sweet as early summer skies !

What pretty hands, what subtle grace,

And what a winsome little face !”

In Mrs. Williams’ driest sherry

He toasts the lass of Bolney Ferry !



A Riverside Luncheon, J Ashby-Sterry (1886):

OUR Crew it is stalwart, our Crew it is smart,

But needeth refreshment at noon;

Let’s land at the lawn of the cheery “White Hart”,

Now gay with the glamour of June !

For here can we lunch to the music of trees –

In sight of the swift river running –

Off cuts of cold beef and a prime Cheddar cheese,

And a tankard of bitter at Sonning!


The garden is lovely, the host is polite,

His rose trees are ruddy with bloom,

The snowy-clad table with tankards bedight,

And pleasant that quaint little room;

So sit down at once, at your inn take your ease –

No man of our Crew will be shunning –

A cut of cold beef and a prime Cheddar cheese,

And a tankard of bitter at Sonning !



We’ve had a long pull, and our hunger is keen,

We’ve all a superb appetite !

The lettuce is crisp, and the cresses are green,

The ale it is beady and bright;

New potatoes galore, and delicious green peas –

The Skipper avers they are “stunning” –

With cuts of cold beef and a prime Cheddar cheese,

And a tankard of bitter at Sonning !


The windows are open, the lime-scented breeze

Comes mixed with the perfume of hay;

We list to the weir and the humming of bees

As we sit and we smoke in the bay !

Then here’s to our host, ever anxious to please,

And here’s to his brewers so cunning !

The cuts of cold beef and the prime Cheddar cheese,

And the tankards of bitter at Sonning !


Miss Sailor-Boy, Mapledurham Lock, August, J Ashby-Sterry (1886):

I pause and watch the boats go by,

And paint her portrait on the sly !


Her age is twelve;  half bold, half coy –

Her friends all call her “Sailor-Boy” –

With sweet brown eyes beyond compare,

And close-cropped, curling, sunny hair;

Her smart straw hat you’ll notice, and

See “Jennie” broidered on the band,

Her sailor’s knot and lanyard too,

With jersey trim of navy blue;

Her short serge frock distinctly shows

Well shapen legs in sable hose

And symphonies in needlework,

Where dimpled pearly shadows lurk –

Which, as she swings her skirts, you note

Peep out beneath her petticoat.

This sunburnt baby dives and floats,

She manages canoes or boats;

Can steer and scull, can reef or row.

Or punt or paddle, fish or tow.

The lithest lass you e’er could see

In all Short-petticoaterie !


A Streatley Sonata, J Ashby-Sterry (1886):

YES ! Here I am ! I’ve drifted down –

The sun is hot, my face is brown –

Before the wind from Moulsford town,

So pleasantly and fleetly !

I know not what the time may be –

It must be half-past two or three –

And so I think I’ll land and see,

Beside the “Swan” at Streatley !


And when you’re here, I’m told that you

Should mount the hill and see the view;

And gaze and wonder, if you’d do

Its merits most completely:

The air is clear, the day is fine,

The prospect is, I know, divine –

But most distinctly I decline

To climb the hill at Streatley !


My Doctor, surely he knows best,

Avers that I’m in need of rest;

And so I heed his wise behest

And tarry here discreetly:

‘Tis sweet to muse in leafy June,

‘Tis doubly sweet this afternoon,

So I’ll remain to muse and moon

Before the “Swan” at Streatley !


But from the Hill, I understand

You gaze across rich pasture-land;

And fancy you see Oxford and

P’r’aps Wallingford and Wheatley:

Upon the winding Thames you gaze,

And, though the view’s beyond all praise,

I’d rather much sit here and laze

Than scale the Hill at Streatley !


I sit and lounge here on the grass,

And watch the river traffic pass;

 Note a dimpled, fair young lass,

Who feather low and  neatly:

Her hands are brown, her eyes are grey,

And trim her nautical array –

Alas ! she swiftly sculls away,

And leaves the “Swan” at Streatley !


She’s gone ! Yes, now she’s out of sight !

She’s gone ! But still the sun is bright,

The sky is blue, the breezes light

With thyme are scented sweetly:

She may return !  So here I’ll stay,

And, just to pass the time away,

I smoke and weave a lazy lay

About the “Swan” at Streatley.

Taken In Tow, Pangbourne, Streatley & Goring, J Ashby-Sterry (1886):


How blithely the beauties break into a canter

And over  the sward how their feet pit-a-pat !

The limber young lass in a white Tam o’Shanter,

The pouting young puss in a sailor-boy hat !


O, PANGBOURNE is pleasant in sweet Summertime,

And Streatley and Goring are worthy of rhyme:

The sunshine is hot and the breezes are still,

The river runs swift under Basildon Hill !

To lounge in a skiff is delightful to me,

I’m feeling as lazy as lazy can be;

I don’t care to sail and I don’t care to row –

Since I’m lucky enough to be taken in tow !


Though battered am I, like the old Téméraire,

My tow-ers are young and my tow-ers are fair:

The one is Eleven, the other Nineteen,

The merriest maidens that ever were seen.

They pull with a will and they keep the line tight,

Dimpled Dolly in blue and sweet Hetty in white;

And though you may think it is not comme il faut,

‘Tis awfully nice to be taken in tow.


I loll on the cushions, I smoke and I dream,

And list to the musical song of the stream;

The boat gurgles on by the rushes and weeds,

And, crushing the lilies, scroops over the reeds.

The sky is so blue and the water so clear,

I’m almost to idle to think or to steer !

Let scullers delight in hot toiling, but O ! –

Let me have the chance to be taken in tow !


The dragon-fly hums and the skiff glides along,

The leaves whisper low and the stream runneth strong,

But still the two maidens tramp girlfully on,

I’ll reward them for this when we get to the “Swan”;

For then shall be rest for my excellent team,

A strawberry banquet, with plenty of cream ! –

Believe me, good people, for I ought to know,

‘Tis capital fun to be taken in tow!



On the Poem Tree, Wittenham Clumps, Joseph Tubbs, 1844

As up the hill with labr'ing steps we tread
Where the twin Clumps their sheltering branches spread
The summit gain'd, at ease reclining lay
and all around the wide spread scene survey
Point out each object and instructive tell
The various changes that the land befel.
Where the low bank the country wide surrounds
That ancient earthwork form'd old Murcia's bounds.
In misty distance see the barrow heave,
There lies forgotten lonely Culchelm's grave.
Around this hill the ruthless Danes intrenched,
and these fair plains with gory slaughter drench'd,
While at our feet where stands that stately tower
In days gone by, uprose the Roman power
And yonder, there where Thames smooth waters glide
In later days appeared monastic pride.
Within that field where lies the grazing herd
Huge walls were found, some coffins disinter'd
Such is the course of time, the wreck which fate
And awful doom award the earthly great.

Joseph Tubbs, 1844


Abingdon Bridge

King Herry the Fyft, in his fourthe yere,

He hath i-founde for his folke a brige in Berkschire,

For cartis with cariage may go and come clere,

That many wynters afore were mareed in the myre.

Culham hithe hath caused many a curse,

I-blessed be our helpers we have a better waye,

Without any peny for cart and for horse.


The Burden Of Itys, Oscar Wilde:


This English Thames is holier far than Rome,

Those harebells like a sudden flush of sea

Breaking across the woodland, with the foam

Of meadow-sweet and white anemone

To fleck their blue waves, - God is likelier there

Than hidden in that crystal-hearted star the pale monks bear!


Those violet-gleaming butterflies that take

Yon creamy lily for their pavilion

Are monsignores, and where the rushes shake

A lazy pike lies basking in the sun,

His eyes half shut, - he is some mitred old

Bishop in PARTIBUS! look at those gaudy scales all green and gold.


The wind the restless prisoner of the trees

Does well for Palaestrina, one would say

The mighty master's hands were on the keys

Of the Maria organ, which they play

When early on some sapphire Easter morn

In a high litter red as blood or sin the Pope is borne


From his dark House out to the Balcony

Above the bronze gates and the crowded square,

Whose very fountains seem for ecstasy

To toss their silver lances in the air,

And stretching out weak hands to East and West

In vain sends peace to peaceless lands, to restless nations rest.


Is not yon lingering orange after-glow

That stays to vex the moon more fair than all

Rome's lordliest pageants! strange, a year ago

I knelt before some crimson Cardinal

Who bare the Host across the Esquiline,

And now - those common poppies in the wheat seem twice as fine.


The blue-green beanfields yonder, tremulous

With the last shower, sweeter perfume bring

Through this cool evening than the odorous

Flame-jewelled censers the young deacons swing,

When the grey priest unlocks the curtained shrine,

And makes God's body from the common fruit of corn and vine.


Poor Fra Giovanni bawling at the mass

Were out of tune now, for a small brown bird

Sings overhead, and through the long cool grass

I see that throbbing throat which once I heard

On starlit hills of flower-starred Arcady,

Once where the white and crescent sand of Salamis meets sea.


Sweet is the swallow twittering on the eaves

At daybreak, when the mower whets his scythe,

And stock-doves murmur, and the milkmaid leaves

Her little lonely bed, and carols blithe

To see the heavy-lowing cattle wait

Stretching their huge and dripping mouths across the farmyard gate.


And sweet the hops upon the Kentish leas,

And sweet the wind that lifts the new-mown hay,

And sweet the fretful swarms of grumbling bees

That round and round the linden blossoms play;

And sweet the heifer breathing in the stall,

And the green bursting figs that hang upon the red-brick wall,


And sweet to hear the cuckoo mock the spring

While the last violet loiters by the well,

And sweet to hear the shepherd Daphnis sing

The song of Linus through a sunny dell

Of warm Arcadia where the corn is gold

And the slight lithe-limbed reapers dance about the wattled fold.


And sweet with young Lycoris to recline

In some Illyrian valley far away,

Where canopied on herbs amaracine

We too might waste the summer-tranced day

Matching our reeds in sportive rivalry,

While far beneath us frets the troubled purple of the sea.


But sweeter far if silver-sandalled foot

Of some long-hidden God should ever tread

The Nuneham meadows, if with reeded flute

Pressed to his lips some Faun might raise his head

By the green water-flags, ah! sweet indeed

To see the heavenly herdsman call his white-fleeced flock to feed.


Then sing to me thou tuneful chorister,

Though what thou sing'st be thine own requiem!

Tell me thy tale thou hapless chronicler

Of thine own tragedies! do not contemn

These unfamiliar haunts, this English field,

For many a lovely coronal our northern isle can yield


Which Grecian meadows know not, many a rose

Which all day long in vales AEolian

A lad might seek in vain for over-grows

Our hedges like a wanton courtesan

Unthrifty of its beauty; lilies too

Ilissos never mirrored star our streams, and cockles blue


Dot the green wheat which, though they are the signs

For swallows going south, would never spread

Their azure tents between the Attic vines;

Even that little weed of ragged red,

Which bids the robin pipe, in Arcady

Would be a trespasser, and many an unsung elegy


Sleeps in the reeds that fringe our winding Thames

Which to awake were sweeter ravishment

Than ever Syrinx wept for; diadems

Of brown bee-studded orchids which were meant

For Cytheraea's brows are hidden here

Unknown to Cytheraea, and by yonder pasturing steer


There is a tiny yellow daffodil,

The butterfly can see it from afar,

Although one summer evening's dew could fill

Its little cup twice over ere the star

Had called the lazy shepherd to his fold

And be no prodigal; each leaf is flecked with spotted gold


As if Jove's gorgeous leman Danae

Hot from his gilded arms had stooped to kiss

The trembling petals, or young Mercury

Low-flying to the dusky ford of Dis

Had with one feather of his pinions

Just brushed them! the slight stem which bears the burden of its suns


Is hardly thicker than the gossamer,

Or poor Arachne's silver tapestry, -

Men say it bloomed upon the sepulchre

Of One I sometime worshipped, but to me

It seems to bring diviner memories

Of faun-loved Heliconian glades and blue nymph-haunted seas,


Of an untrodden vale at Tempe where

On the clear river's marge Narcissus lies,

The tangle of the forest in his hair,

The silence of the woodland in his eyes,

Wooing that drifting imagery which is

No sooner kissed than broken; memories of Salmacis


Who is not boy nor girl and yet is both,

Fed by two fires and unsatisfied

Through their excess, each passion being loth

For love's own sake to leave the other's side

Yet killing love by staying; memories

Of Oreads peeping through the leaves of silent moonlit trees,


Of lonely Ariadne on the wharf

At Naxos, when she saw the treacherous crew

Far out at sea, and waved her crimson scarf

And called false Theseus back again nor knew

That Dionysos on an amber pard

Was close behind her; memories of what Maeonia's bard


With sightless eyes beheld, the wall of Troy,

Queen Helen lying in the ivory room,

And at her side an amorous red-lipped boy

Trimming with dainty hand his helmet's plume,

And far away the moil, the shout, the groan,

As Hector shielded off the spear and Ajax hurled the stone;


Of winged Perseus with his flawless sword

Cleaving the snaky tresses of the witch,

And all those tales imperishably stored

In little Grecian urns, freightage more rich

Than any gaudy galleon of Spain

Bare from the Indies ever! these at least bring back again,


For well I know they are not dead at all,

The ancient Gods of Grecian poesy:

They are asleep, and when they hear thee call

Will wake and think 't is very Thessaly,

This Thames the Daulian waters, this cool glade

The yellow-irised mead where once young Itys laughed and played.


If it was thou dear jasmine-cradled bird

Who from the leafy stillness of thy throne

Sang to the wondrous boy, until he heard

The horn of Atalanta faintly blown

Across the Cumnor hills, and wandering

Through Bagley wood at evening found the Attic poets' spring, -


Ah! tiny sober-suited advocate

That pleadest for the moon against the day!

If thou didst make the shepherd seek his mate

On that sweet questing, when Proserpina

Forgot it was not Sicily and leant

Across the mossy Sandford stile in ravished wonderment, -


Light-winged and bright-eyed miracle of the wood!

If ever thou didst soothe with melody

One of that little clan, that brotherhood

Which loved the morning-star of Tuscany

More than the perfect sun of Raphael

And is immortal, sing to me! for I too love thee well.


Sing on! sing on! let the dull world grow young,

Let elemental things take form again,

And the old shapes of Beauty walk among

The simple garths and open crofts, as when

The son of Leto bare the willow rod,

And the soft sheep and shaggy goats followed the boyish God.


Sing on! sing on! and Bacchus will be here

Astride upon his gorgeous Indian throne,

And over whimpering tigers shake the spear

With yellow ivy crowned and gummy cone,

While at his side the wanton Bassarid

Will throw the lion by the mane and catch the mountain kid!


Sing on! and I will wear the leopard skin,

And steal the mooned wings of Ashtaroth,

Upon whose icy chariot we could win

Cithaeron in an hour ere the froth

Has over-brimmed the wine-vat or the Faun

Ceased from the treading! ay, before the flickering lamp of dawn


Has scared the hooting owlet to its nest,

And warned the bat to close its filmy vans,

Some Maenad girl with vine-leaves on her breast

Will filch their beech-nuts from the sleeping Pans

So softly that the little nested thrush

Will never wake, and then with shrilly laugh and leap will rush


Down the green valley where the fallen dew

Lies thick beneath the elm and count her store,

Till the brown Satyrs in a jolly crew

Trample the loosestrife down along the shore,

And where their horned master sits in state

Bring strawberries and bloomy plums upon a wicker crate!


Sing on! and soon with passion-wearied face

Through the cool leaves Apollo's lad will come,

The Tyrian prince his bristled boar will chase

Adown the chestnut-copses all a-bloom,

And ivory-limbed, grey-eyed, with look of pride,

After yon velvet-coated deer the virgin maid will ride.


Sing on! and I the dying boy will see

Stain with his purple blood the waxen bell

That overweighs the jacinth, and to me

The wretched Cyprian her woe will tell,

And I will kiss her mouth and streaming eyes,

And lead her to the myrtle-hidden grove where Adon lies!


Cry out aloud on Itys! memory

That foster-brother of remorse and pain

Drops poison in mine ear, - O to be free,

To burn one's old ships! and to launch again

Into the white-plumed battle of the waves

And fight old Proteus for the spoil of coral-flowered caves!


O for Medea with her poppied spell!

O for the secret of the Colchian shrine!

O for one leaf of that pale asphodel

Which binds the tired brows of Proserpine,

And sheds such wondrous dews at eve that she

Dreams of the fields of Enna, by the far Sicilian sea,


Where oft the golden-girdled bee she chased

From lily to lily on the level mead,

Ere yet her sombre Lord had bid her taste

The deadly fruit of that pomegranate seed,

Ere the black steeds had harried her away

Down to the faint and flowerless land, the sick and sunless day.


O for one midnight and as paramour

The Venus of the little Melian farm!

O that some antique statue for one hour

Might wake to passion, and that I could charm

The Dawn at Florence from its dumb despair,

Mix with those mighty limbs and make that giant breast my lair!


Sing on! sing on! I would be drunk with life,

Drunk with the trampled vintage of my youth,

I would forget the wearying wasted strife,

The riven veil, the Gorgon eyes of Truth,

The prayerless vigil and the cry for prayer,

The barren gifts, the lifted arms, the dull insensate air!


Sing on! sing on! O feathered Niobe,

Thou canst make sorrow beautiful, and steal

From joy its sweetest music, not as we

Who by dead voiceless silence strive to heal

Our too untented wounds, and do but keep

Pain barricadoed in our hearts, and murder pillowed sleep.


Sing louder yet, why must I still behold

The wan white face of that deserted Christ,

Whose bleeding hands my hands did once enfold,

Whose smitten lips my lips so oft have kissed,

And now in mute and marble misery

Sits in his lone dishonoured House and weeps, perchance for me?


O Memory cast down thy wreathed shell!

Break thy hoarse lute O sad Melpomene!

O Sorrow, Sorrow keep thy cloistered cell

Nor dim with tears this limpid Castaly!

Cease, Philomel, thou dost the forest wrong

To vex its sylvan quiet with such wild impassioned song!


Cease, cease, or if 't is anguish to be dumb

Take from the pastoral thrush her simpler air,

Whose jocund carelessness doth more become

This English woodland than thy keen despair,

Ah! cease and let the north wind bear thy lay

Back to the rocky hills of Thrace, the stormy Daulian bay.


A moment more, the startled leaves had stirred,

Endymion would have passed across the mead

Moonstruck with love, and this still Thames had heard

Pan plash and paddle groping for some reed

To lure from her blue cave that Naiad maid

Who for such piping listens half in joy and half afraid.


A moment more, the waking dove had cooed,

The silver daughter of the silver sea

With the fond gyves of clinging hands had wooed

Her wanton from the chase, and Dryope

Had thrust aside the branches of her oak

To see the lusty gold-haired lad rein in his snorting yoke.


A moment more, the trees had stooped to kiss

Pale Daphne just awakening from the swoon

Of tremulous laurels, lonely Salmacis

Had bared his barren beauty to the moon,

And through the vale with sad voluptuous smile

Antinous had wandered, the red lotus of the Nile


Down leaning from his black and clustering hair,

To shade those slumberous eyelids' caverned bliss,

Or else on yonder grassy slope with bare

High-tuniced limbs unravished Artemis

Had bade her hounds give tongue, and roused the deer

From his green ambuscade with shrill halloo and pricking spear.


Lie still, lie still, O passionate heart, lie still!

O Melancholy, fold thy raven wing!

O sobbing Dryad, from thy hollow hill

Come not with such despondent answering!

No more thou winged Marsyas complain,

Apollo loveth not to hear such troubled songs of pain!


It was a dream, the glade is tenantless,

No soft Ionian laughter moves the air,

The Thames creeps on in sluggish leadenness,

And from the copse left desolate and bare

Fled is young Bacchus with his revelry,

Yet still from Nuneham wood there comes that thrilling melody


So sad, that one might think a human heart

Brake in each separate note, a quality

Which music sometimes has, being the Art

Which is most nigh to tears and memory;

Poor mourning Philomel, what dost thou fear?

Thy sister doth not haunt these fields, Pandion is not here,


Here is no cruel Lord with murderous blade,

No woven web of bloody heraldries,

But mossy dells for roving comrades made,

Warm valleys where the tired student lies

With half-shut book, and many a winding walk

Where rustic lovers stray at eve in happy simple talk.


The harmless rabbit gambols with its young

Across the trampled towing-path, where late

A troop of laughing boys in jostling throng

Cheered with their noisy cries the racing eight;

The gossamer, with ravelled silver threads,

Works at its little loom, and from the dusky red-eaved sheds


Of the lone Farm a flickering light shines out

Where the swinked shepherd drives his bleating flock

Back to their wattled sheep-cotes, a faint shout

Comes from some Oxford boat at Sandford lock,

And starts the moor-hen from the sedgy rill,

And the dim lengthening shadows flit like swallows up the hill.


The heron passes homeward to the mere,

The blue mist creeps among the shivering trees,

Gold world by world the silent stars appear,

And like a blossom blown before the breeze

A white moon drifts across the shimmering sky,

Mute arbitress of all thy sad, thy rapturous threnody.


She does not heed thee, wherefore should she heed,

She knows Endymion is not far away;

'Tis I, 'tis I, whose soul is as the reed

Which has no message of its own to play,

So pipes another's bidding, it is I,

Drifting with every wind on the wide sea of misery.


Ah! the brown bird has ceased: one exquisite trill

About the sombre woodland seems to cling

Dying in music, else the air is still,

So still that one might hear the bat's small wing

Wander and wheel above the pines, or tell

Each tiny dew-drop dripping from the bluebell's brimming cell.


And far away across the lengthening wold,

Across the willowy flats and thickets brown,

Magdalen's tall tower tipped with tremulous gold

Marks the long High Street of the little town,

And warns me to return; I must not wait,

Hark ! 't is the curfew booming from the bell at Christ Church gate.

Ferry Hinksey, Laurence Binyon, 1909

Beyond the ferry water

That fast and silent flowed,

She turned, she gazed a moment,

Then took her onward road.


Between the winding willows

To a city white with spires;

It seemed a path of pilgrims

To the home of earth’s desires.


Blue shade of golden branches

Spread for her journeying,

Till he that lingered lost her

Among the leaves of spring.


Medley Weir

Let him who would have memories seek our waters

Severn and Avon, Eden, Usk and Wye;

Our English Naiads, England’s laughing daughters

Age shall not dim his vision till he die.

Still, in the firelight, he shall see them leaping;

See dappled sunlight on dark pools;

and hear Music of rapids and – ’twixt wake and sleeping

The organ-thunder of the approaching weir.


Binsey Poplars

Binsey Poplars (Felled 1879), Gerard Manley Hopkins

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,

Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,

All felled, felled, are all felled;

Of a fresh and following folded rank

Not spared, not one

That dandalled a sandalled

Shadow that swam or sank

On meadow and river wind-wandering weed-winding bank.


O if we but knew what we do

When we delve or hew -

Hack and rack the growing green!

Since country is so tender

To touch, her being só slender,

That, like this sleek and seeing ball

But a prick will make no eye at all,

Where we, even where we mean

To mend her we end her,

When we hew or delve;

After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.

Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve

Strokes of havoc únselve

The sweet especial rural scene,

Rural scene, a rural scene,

Sweet especial rural scene.

Gerard Manley Hopkins


The Telling of Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

All in the golden afternoon

Full leisurely we glide;

For both our oars, with little skill,

By little arms are plied,

While little hands make vain pretence

Our wanderings to guide.


Ah, cruel Three!  In such an hour

Beneath such dreamy weather,

To beg a tale of breath too weak

To stir the tiniest feather!

Yet what can one poor voice avail

Against three tongues together?


Imperious Prima flashes forth

Her edict "To begin it" -

In gentler tone Secunda hopes

"There will be nonsense in it!" -

 While Tertia interrupts the tale

Not more than once a minute


Anon, to sudden silence won,

In fancy they pursue

The dream-child moving through a land   

Of wonders wild and new,

In friendly chat with bird or beast -

And half believe it true.


And ever, as the story drained

The wells of fancy dry,

And faintly strove that weary one

To put the subject by,

"The rest next time -",  "It is next time!"

The happy voices cry.


Thus grew the tale of Wonderland:

Thus slowly, one by one,

Its quaint events were hammered out

And now the tale is done,

And home we steer, a merry crew,

Beneath the setting sun.


Alice! A childish story take,

And with a gentle hand

Lay it where Childhood's dreams are twined

In Memory's mystic band,

Like pilgrim's wither'd wreath of flowers

Pluck'd in a far-off land.


A school trip to Godstow (from Summoned by Bells) John Betjeman


…  The skiffs were moored above the lock,

They bumped each other side to side:

I boarded one and made her rock –

“Shut up, you fool,” a master cried.

By reed and rush and alder-bush

See soon our long procession glide.


There is a world of water weed

Seen only from a shallow boat:

Deep forests of the bladed reed

Whose wolves are rats of slimy coat,

Whose yellow lily-blossoms need

Broad leaves to keep themselves afloat.


A heaving world, half-land, half-flood;

It rose and sank as ripples rolled,

The hideous larva from the mud

Clung to a reed with patient hold,

Waiting to break its sheath and make

An aeroplane of green and gold.


The picnic and the orchid hunt,

On Oxey Mead the rounders played,

The belly-floppers from the punt,

The echoes that our shouting made:

The rowing back, relaxed and slack,

The shipping oars in Godstow shade …

John Betjeman (Summoned by Bells)

Rosamund the Fair

Her crispč lockes like threads of golde

Appeared to each man’s sight;

Her sparkling eyes, like orient pearles,

Did cast a heavenlye light.


The blood within her crystal cheeks

Did such a colour drive,

As though the lillye and the rose

For mastership did strive.


Godstow from The Genius of the Thames, Thomas Love Peacock, 1810

The wind-flower waves, in lonely bloom,

On Godstow’s desolated wall:

There thin shades flit through twilight gloom,

And murmured accents feebly fall.

The aged hazel nurtures there

Its hollow fruit, so seeming fair,

And lightly throws its humble shade,

Where Rosamunda’s form is laid.


The Evenlode, Hilaire Belloc

 I will not try to reach again,

I will not set my sail alone,

To moor a boat bereft of men

At Yarnton's tiny docks of stone.


But I will sit beside the fire,

And put my hand before my eyes,

And trace, to fill my heart's desire,

The last of all our Odysseys.


The quiet evening kept her tryst:

Beneath an open sky we rode,

And passed into a wandering mist

Along the perfect Evenlode.


The tender Evenlode that makes

Her meadows hush to hear the sound

Of waters mingling in the brakes,

And binds my heart to English ground.


A lovely river, all alone,

She lingers in the hills and holds

A hundred little towns of stone,

Forgotten in the western wolds.



Eynsham poaching Song, Henry Leach:


Three Eynsham chaps went out one day,

To Lord Abingdon’s Manor they made their way,

They took some dogs to catch some game,

And soon to Wytham Woods they came.

Laddie io laddie io Fol the rol lo ra laddie io


We had not long been beating there,

Before our spaniel put up a hare;

Up she jumped, and away she ran,

At the very same time, a pheasant sprang.


We had not beat the woods all through,

Before Barrett, the keeper, came in view;

When we saw the old beggar look,

We made our way to Cassington Brook.


When we got there 'twas full to the brim,

And you'd have laughed to see us swim:

Ten feet of water, if not more;

When we got out, our dogs came o'er.


Over hedges, ditches, gates and rails,

Our dogs followed after behind our heels.

If he had catched us, say what you will,

He'd have sent us all to Abingdon Jail.



Bab-Lock-Hythe by Laurence Binyon (1869-1943):

 In the time of wild roses

As up Thames we travelled

Where 'mid water-reeds ravelled

The lily uncloses,


To his old shores the river

A new song was singing,

And young shoot were springing

On old roots for ever.


Dog-daisies were dancing,

And flags flamed in cluster,

On the dark streams lustre

Now blurred and now glancing.


A tall reed down-weighing,

The sedge-warbler fluttered;

One sweet note he uttered,

Then left it soft-swaying.


By the bank's sandy hollow

My dipt oars went beating,

And past our bows fleeting

Blue-backed shone the swallow.


High woods, heron-haunted,

Rose, changed, as we rounded

Old hills greenly mounded

To meadows enchanted;


A dream ever moulded

Afresh for our wonder,

Still opening asunder

For the stream many-folded;


Till sunset was rimming

The west with pale flushes;

Behind the black rushes

The last light was dimming;


And the lonely stream, hiding

Shy birds, grew more lonely,

And with us was only

The noise of our gliding.


In clouds of grey weather

The evening o'erdarkened,

In the stillness we hearkened;

Our hearts sang together.



Love is enough, William Morris

Love is enough: though the world be a-waning,

And the woods have no voice but the voice of complaining,

Though the skies be too dark for dim eyes to discover

The gold-cups and daisies fair blooming thereunder,

Though the hills be held shadows, and the sea a dark wonder,

And this day draw a veil over all deeds passed over,

Yet their hands shall not tremble, their feet shall not falter:

The void shall not weary, the fear shall not alter

These lips and these eyes of the loved and the lover.

What better place, William Morris

What better place than this, then, could we find,
By this sweet stream that knows not of the sea,
That guesses not the city’s misery,
This little stream whose hamlets scarce have names,
This far-off, lonely mother of the Thames.


A Summer Evening Churchyard, Lechlade, Gloucestershire. Percy Bysshe Shelley: 

September 1815

THE wind has swept from the wide atmosphere
Each vapour that obscured the sunset's ray,
And pallid Evening twines its beaming hair
In duskier braids around the languid eyes of Day:
Silence and Twilight, unbeloved of men,
Creep hand in hand from yon obscurest glen.

They breathe their spells towards the departing day,
Encompassing the earth, air, stars, and sea;
Light, sound, and motion, own the potent sway,
Responding to the charm with its own mystery.
The winds are still, or the dry church-tower grass
Knows not their gentle motions as they pass.

Thou too, aerial pile, whose pinnacles
Point from one shrine like pyramids of fire,
Obey'st I in silence their sweet solemn spells,
Clothing in hues of heaven thy dim and distant spire,
Around whose lessening and invisible height
Gather among the stars the clouds of night.

The dead are sleeping in their sepulchres:
And, mouldering as they sleep, a thrilling sound,
Half sense half thought, among the darkness stirs,
Breathed from their wormy beds all living things around,
And, mingling with the still night and mute sky,
Its awful hush is felt inaudibly.

Thus solemnized and softened, death is mild
And terrorless as this serenest night.
Here could I hope, like some enquiring child
Sporting on graves, that death did hide from human sight
Sweet secrets, or beside its breathless sleep
That loveliest dreams perpetual watch did keep.



Accolade, like lemonade © Suzanne de Freitas 2002

Slow waters of the Cherwell flow
Past groups in flowered skirts and jeans and shirts
 Release from academe brings forth
Fizzy pop, strawberries and laughter
And mild hysteria before the morning after

Gazing at you supine, I pole the punt upstream
The glory of your beauty glows while evening dowses
Pubward voices, discarded principles and trousers

In a backwater I drink your kisses;
Declare that love no more than this is
And oh, my love, one swallow makes a summer

from The Waste Land T S Eliot:

The river's tent is broken;  the last fingers of leaf

Clutch and sink into the wet bank.  The wind

Crosses the brown land, unheard.  The nymphs are departed.

Sweet Thames run softly till I end my song.

The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,

Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends

Or other testimony of summer nights.  The nymphs are departed,

And their friends, the loitering heirs of city directors;

Departed, have left no addresses.

By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept …

Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,

Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.

But at my back in a cold blast I hear

The rattle of bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.


On the New Buildings, Magdalen College, Hurdis with additions John Betjeman


… Let me go on in Hurdis's blank verse

So very blank and to the point and terse;

He was a fellow once and in his time

Deeply loved Magdalen and avoided rhyme


"It is enough for me to hear the sound

Of the remote exhilerating peal

Now dying away, now faintly hear,

And now with loud and musical relapse

Its mellow changes huddling on the ear.

So have I stood at eve on Isis banks,

To hear the merry Christchurch bells rejoice,

So have I sat too in thy honoured shades

Distinguished Magdalen on Cherwell's bank

To hear thy silver Wolsey tones so sweet.

And soon too have I paused and held my oar

And suffered the sweet stream to bear me home,

While Wykeham's peal along the meadow ran.


L’inconnue, J Ashby-Sterry, (1886):

Far, far from the town,

I spied drifting down,

Cheeks ruddy and brown –

Eyes so blue –

A sweet sailor-girl,

With hair all a-curl –

In canoe.


She dreams in the boat,

And sweet is the note

That little white throat

Carols through:

She languidly glides,

And skilfully guides –

Her canoe.


‘Neath tremulous trees,

She loiters at ease,

And I, if you please,

Wonder who

May be the sweet maid,

Who moons in the shade –



Pray tell me who can,

Is she Alice or Ann?

Is she Florrie or Fan?

Is she Loo?

The laziest pet,

You ever saw yet –

In canoe.


The river’s like glass –

As slowly I pass,

This sweet little lass,

Raises two

Forget-me-not eyes,

In laughing surprise –

From canoe.


And as I float by,

Said I, “Miss, O why?

O why may not I

Drift with you?”

Said she, with a start,

“I’ve no room in my heart –

Or canoe !”

Tamasá Reaches, Jenyth Worsley:


Near the railway bridge on the road to Cirencester
you pass a sign which says, 'Source of the River Thames'.
Its underground spring comes up for breath
through banks that are hardly higher than the water.
Trout are here, otters and water voles.
Take the meandering river's path through Lechlade,
whose stone-built houses keep their hidden views,
until, near Oxford, wider waters offer
residence to house-boats, fishermen and geese.

From Putney to Mortlake
leaning and pulling
oars on the rowlocks
dipping and twisting
past Barn Elms and Hammersmith
sweatshirts sodden
with splashes and straining
megaphones shouting
to dark blue and light blue
victors triumphant
stride through the water
but slumping defeated
the losers stay listless
Where fretful salt meets yellow-brownish sludge

The old Thames sang of rotting wood and skulls,
barbyl, flounders, spearheads, bits of rope.
Its pre-Celt name was Tamasá, dark river.
At this forum of city stone and water
the old trades are gone. Docks and wharves,
where two thousand masts once glittered on the water
with cargoes of tea and sugar, silk and oranges,
and steamers to the Empire bruised the oceans
with holds of steel and missionary trunks -
all are transformed by the new commerce,
the new river gods, Finance and the Media.
Below their elegant glass powerhouses
sailboards catch the wind
and wine and coffee bars displace
oyster and apple stalls


Jenyth Worsley, © May 2003,
by kind permission, www.riverthamessociety.org.uk/poetryc4.htm


Prothalamion , “Sweet Thames run softly”,Edmund Spenser:

Calm was the day, and through the trembling air
Sweet-breathing Zephyrus did softly play
A gentle spirit, that lightly did delay
Hot Titan's beams, which then did glister fair;
When I (whom sullen care,
Through discontent of my long fruitless stay
In prince's court, and expectation vain
Of idle hopes, which still do fly away
Like empty shadows, did afflict my brain),
Walk'd forth to ease my pain
Along the shore of silver-streaming Thames;
Whose rutty bank, the which his river hems,
Was painted all with variable flowers,
And all the meads adorn'd with dainty gems
Fit to deck maidens' bowers,
And crown their paramours,
Against the bridal day, which is not long:
Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song.

There, in a meadow, by the river's side,
A flock of nymphs I chanced to espy,
All lovely daughters of the flood thereby,
With goodly greenish locks, all loose untied,
As each had been a bride;
And each one had a little wicker basket,
Made of fine twigs, entrailed curiously,
In which they gathered flowers to fill their flasket,
And with fine fingers cropt full feateously
The tender stalks on high.
Of every sort, which in that meadow grew,
They gathered some; the violet, pallid blue,
The little daisy, that at evening closes,
The virgin lily, and the primrose true,
With store of vermeil roses,
To deck their bridegrooms' posies
Against the bridal day, which was not long:
Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song.

With that I saw two swans of goodly hue
Come softly swimming down along the Lee;
Two fairer birds I yet did never see;
The snow which doth the top of Pindus strew,
Did never whiter shew,
Nor Jove himself, when he a swan would be,
For love of Leda, whiter did appear;
Yet Leda was (they say) as white as he,
Yet not so white as these, nor nothing near;
So purely white they were,
That even the gentle stream, the which them bare,
Seem'd foul to them, and bad his billows spare
To wet their silken feathers, lest they might
Soil their fair plumes with water not so fair,
And mar their beauties bright,
That shone as heaven's light,
Against their bridal day, which was not long:
Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song.

Eftsoons the nymphs, which now had flowers their fill,
Ran all in haste to see that silver brood,
As they came floating on the crystal flood;
Whom when they saw, they stood amazed still,
Their wond'ring eyes to fill;
Them seem'd they never saw a sight so fair,
Of fowls so lovely, that they sure did deem
Them heavenly born, or to be that same pair
Which through the sky draw Venus' silver team;
For sure they did not seem
To be begot of any earthly seed,
But rather angels, or of angels' breed;
Yet were they bred of Somers-heat, they say,
In sweetest season, when each flower and weed
The earth did fresh array;
So fresh they seem'd as day,
Even as their bridal day, which was not long:
Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song.

Then forth they all out of their baskets drew
Great store of flowers, the honour of the field,
That to the sense did fragrant odours yield,
All which upon those goodly birds they threw
And all the waves did strew,
That like old Peneus' waters they did seem,
When down along by pleasant Tempe's shore,
Scatt'red with flowers, through Thessaly they stream,
That they appear through lilies' plenteous store,
Like a bride's chamber floor.
Two of those nymphs, meanwhile, two garlands bound
Of freshest flowers which in that mead they found,
The which presenting all in trim array,
Their snowy foreheads therewithal they crown'd,
Whilst one did sing this lay,
Prepar'd against that day,
Against their bridal day, which was not long:
Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song.

"Ye gentle birds, the world's fair ornament
And heaven's glory, whom this happy hour
Doth lead unto your lovers' blissful bower,
Joy may you have, and gentle heart's content
Of your love's complement;
And let fair Venus, that is Queen of Love,
With her heart-quelling son upon you smile,
Whose smile, they say, hath virtue to remove
All love's dislike, and friendship's faulty guile
For ever to assoil.
Let endless Peace your steadfast hearts accord,
And blessed Plenty wait upon your board:
And let your bed with pleasures chaste abound,
That fruitful issue may to you afford,
Which may your foes confound,
And make your joys redound
Upon your bridal day, which is not long:
Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song."

So ended she; and all the rest around
To her redoubled that her undersong,
Which said their bridal day should not be long;
And gentle Echo from the neighbour ground
Their accents did resound.
So forth those joyous birds did pass along,
Adown the Lee, that to them murmur'd low,
As he would speak, but that he lack'd a tongue,
Yet did by signs his glad affection show,
Making his stream run slow.
And all the fowl which in his flood did dwell
Gan flock about these twain, that did excel
The rest, so far as Cynthia doth shend
The lesser stars. So they, enranged well,
Did on those two attend,
And their best service lend
Against their wedding day, which was not long:
Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song.

At length they all to merry London came,
To merry London, my most kindly nurse,
That to me gave this life's first native source,
Though from another place I take my name,
An house of ancient fame.
There when they came, whereas those bricky towers
The which on Thames' broad aged back do ride,
Where now the studious lawyers have their bowers,
There whilom wont the Templar Knights to bide,
Till they decay'd through pride:
Next whereunto there stands a stately place,
Where oft I gained gifts and goodly grace
Of that great lord, which therein wont to dwell,
Whose want too well now feels my friendless case:
But ah! here fits not well
Old woes, but joys, to tell
Against the bridal day, which is not long:
Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song.

Yet therein now doth lodge a noble peer,
Great England's glory, and the world's wide wonder,
Whose dreadful name late through all Spain did thunder,
And Hercules' two pillars standing near
Did make to quake and fear:
Fair branch of honour, flower of chivalry,
That fillest England with thy triumph's fame,
Joy have thou of thy noble victory,
And endless happiness of thine own name
That promiseth the same;
That through thy prowess, and victorious arms,
Thy country may be freed from foreign harms;
And great Eliza's glorious name may ring
Through all the world, fill'd with thy wide alarms,
Which some brave Muse may sing
To ages following,
Upon the bridal day, which is not long:
Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song.

From those high towers this noble lord issuing,
Like radiant Hesper, when his golden hair
In th' ocean billows he hath bathed fair,
Descended to the river's open viewing,
With a great train ensuing.
Above the rest were goodly to be seen
Two gentle knights of lovely face and feature,
Beseeming well the bower of any queen,
With gifts of wit, and ornaments of nature,
Fit for so goodly stature,
That like the twins of Jove they seem'd in sight,
Which deck the baldric of the heavens bright;
They two, forth pacing to the river's side,
Receiv'd those two fair brides, their love's delight;
Which, at th' appointed tide,
Each one did make his bride
Against their bridal day, which is not long:
Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song.

The Waste Land, Poem III, The Fire Sermon, T S Eliot:


THE river's tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf
Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind
Crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed.
Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.
The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,
Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends
Or other testimony of summer nights. The nymphs are departed.
And their friends, the loitering heirs of city directors; 
Departed, have left no addresses.

By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept . . .
Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,
Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.
But at my back in a cold blast I hear
The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.

A rat crept softly through the vegetation
Dragging its slimy belly on the bank
While I was fishing in the dull canal
On a winter evening round behind the gashouse 
Musing upon the king my brother's wreck
And on the king my father's death before him.
White bodies naked on the low damp ground
And bones cast in a little low dry garret,
Rattled by the rat's foot only, year to year.
But at my back from time to time I hear
The sound of horns and motors, which shall bring
Sweeney to Mrs. Porter in the spring.
O the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter
And on her daughter 
They wash their feet in soda water
_Et, O ces voix d'enfants, chantant dans la coupole!_

Twit twit twit
Jug jug jug jug jug jug
So rudely forc'd.

Unreal City
Under the brown fog of a winter noon
Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants 
C.i.f. London: documents at sight,
Asked me in demotic French
To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel
Followed by a weekend at the Metropole.

At the violet hour, when the eyes and back
Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
Like a taxi throbbing waiting,
I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,
Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see

At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives 
Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,
The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
Her stove, and lays out food in tins.
Out of the window perilously spread
Her drying combinations touched by the sun's last rays,
On the divan are piled (at night her bed)
Stockings, slippers, camisoles, and stays.
I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs
Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest  -  
I too awaited the expected guest. 
He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,
A small house agent's clerk, with one bold stare,
One of the low on whom assurance sits
As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire.
The time is now propitious, as he guesses,
The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,
Endeavours to engage her in caresses
Which still are unreproved, if undesired.
Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;
Exploring hands encounter no defence; 
His vanity requires no response,
And makes a welcome of indifference.
(And I Tiresias have foresuffered all
Enacted on this same divan or bed;
I who have sat by Thebes below the wall
And walked among the lowest of the dead.)
Bestows one final patronising kiss,
And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit . . .

She turns and looks a moment in the glass,
Hardly aware of her departed lover; 
Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:
'Well now that's done: and I'm glad it's over.'
When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramophone.

'This music crept by me upon the waters'
And along the Strand, up Queen Victoria Street.

O City city, I can sometimes hear
Beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street, 
The pleasant whining of a mandoline
And a clatter and a chatter from within
Where fishmen lounge at noon: where the walls
Of Magnus Martyr hold
Inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold.

The river sweats
Oil and tar
The barges drift
With the turning tide

Red sails 
To leeward, swing on the heavy spar.
The barges wash
Drifting logs
Down Greenwich reach
Past the Isle of Dogs.
Weialala leia
Wallala leialala

Elizabeth and Leicester
Beating oars 
The stern was formed
A gilded shell
Red and gold
The brisk swell
Rippled both shores
Southwest wind
Carried down stream
The peal of bells
White towers
Weialala leia 
Wallala leialala

'Trams and dusty trees.
Highbury bore me. Richmond and Kew
Undid me. By Richmond I raised my knees
Supine on the floor of a narrow canoe.'

'My feet are at Moorgate, and my heart
Under my feet. After the event
He wept. He promised "a new start".
I made no comment. What should I resent?'
'On Margate Sands. 
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken fingernails of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect

la la

To Carthage then I came

Burning burning burning burning
 Lord Thou pluckest me out
 Lord Thou pluckest 



A Riverain Rhyme, J Ashby-Sterry, (1886):


Beside the river in the rain –

The sopping sky is leaden grey –

I watch the drops run down the pane !


Assuming the Tapleyan vein –

I sit and drone a dismal lay –

Beside the river in the rain !


With pluvial patter for refrain;

I’ve smoked the very blackest clay;

I watch the drops run down the pane.


I’ve gazed upon big fishes slain,

That on the walls make brave display,

Beside the river in the rain.


It will not clear, ‘tis very plain,

The rain will last throughout the day –

I watch the drops run down the pane.


I almost feel my boundless brain

At last shows signs of giving way;

Beside the river in the rain.


O. never will I stop again –

No more will I attempt to stay,

Beside the river in the rain,

To watch the drops run down the pane !


Blankton Weir, J Ashby-Sterry (1886):

[No idea where Blankton Weir is!  It may well not be on The Thames.]

‘TIS a queer old pile of timbers, all gnarled and rough and green,

Both moss o’ergrown and weed-covered, and jaggčd too, I ween !

‘Tis battered and ‘tis spattered, all worn and knocked about,

Reclamped with rusty rivets, and bepatched with timbers stout;

A tottering, trembling structure, enshrining memories dear,

This weather-beaten barrier, this quaint old Blankton Weir.


While leaning on those withered rails, what feelings oft come back,

As I watch the white foam sparkling and note the current’s track;

What crowds of fleeting fancies coming dancing through my brain !

And the good old days of Blankton, I live them o’er again;

What hopes and fear, gay smiles, sad tears, seem mirrored in the mere,

While looking on its glassy face by tell-tale Blankton Weir !


I’ve seen it basking ‘neath the rays of summer’s golden glow,

And when sweetly by the moonlight, silver ripples ebb and flow.

When nature starts in spring-time, awakening into life;

When autumn leaves are falling, and the yellow corn is rife;

‘Mid the rime and sleet of winter, all through the livelong year,

I’ve watched the water rushing through this tide-worn Blankton Weir.


And I mind me of one even, so calm and clear and bright,

What songs we sang – whose voices rang – that lovely summer night.

Where are the hearty voices now who trolled those good old lays?

And where the silvery laughter that rang in bygone days?

Come back, that night of long ago !  Come back, the moonlight clear !

When hearts beat light, and eyes were bright, about old Blankton Weir.


Was ever indolence so sweet, were ever days so fine,

As when we lounged in that old punt and played with rod and line?

‘Tis true few fish we caught there, but the good old ale we quaffed,

As we chatted, too, and smoked there, and idled, dreamed, and laughed:

Then thought we only of to-day, of morrow had no fear,

For sorrow scarce had tinged the stream that flowed through Blankton Weir.


Those dreamy August afternoons, when in our skiff we lay,

To hear the current murmuring as slow it swirled away;

The plaintive hum of dragon-fly, the old weir’s plash and roar,

While some-one’s gentle voice, too seems whispering there once more;

Come back, those days of love and trust, those times of hope and fear,

When girls were girls, and hearts were hearts, about old Blankton Weir !


Those brilliant sunny mornings when we tumbled out of bed,

And hurried on a few rough clothes, and to the river sped !

What laughing joyaunce hung about those merry days agone,

We clove the rushing current at the early flush of dawn !

Tremendous headers took we in the waters bright and clear,

And splashed and dashed, and dived and swam, just off old Blankton Weir.

Then that pleasant picnic-party, when all the girls were there,

In pretty morning dresses and with freshly-braided hair;

Fair Annie, with those deep-blue eyes, and rosy, laughing Nell,

Dark Helen, sunny Amy, and the stately Isobel;

Ah ! Lizzie, ‘twas but yesterday – at least ‘twould so appear –

We plighted vows of constancy, not far from Blankton Weir.


Those flashing eyes, those brave true hearts, are gone, and few remain

To mourn the loss of sunny hours that ne’er come back again:

Some married are – ah ! Me, how changed – for they will think no more

Of how they joined our chorus there, or helped to pull the oar:

One gentle voice is hushed for aye – we miss a voice so dear –

Who cheered along with evensong our path by Blankton Weir.


Amid the whirl of weary life – I hear it o’er and o’er,

That plaintive well-loved lullaby – the old weir’s distant roar:

It gilds the cloud of daily toil with sunshine’s fitful gleams,

It breaks upon my slumber, and I hear it in my dreams:

Like music of the good old times, it strikes upon mine ear –

If there’s an air can banish care, ‘tis that of Blankton Weir !


I know the river’s rushing, but it rushes not for me,

I feel the morning blushing, though I am not there to see;

For younger hearts now live and love where once we used to dwell,

And others laugh, and dream, and sing, in spots we loved so well;

Their motto “Carpe diem” – ‘twas ours for many a year –

As show these rhymes of sunny times about old Blankton Weir.

Below the Weir, Patrick Chalmers, 1925 

Beyond the punt the swallows go

Like blue-black arrows to and fro,

Now stooping where the rushes grow,

Now flashing o’er a shallow;

And overhead in blue and white

High Spring and summer hold delight;

‘All right!’ the blackcap call, ‘All right!’

His mate says from the sallow.


O dancing stream, O diamond day,

O charm of lilac time and May,

O whispering meadows green and gay,

O fair things past believing!

Could but the world stand still, stand still

When over wood and stream and hill

This morn’s eternal miracle

The rosy Hours are weaving!


Eternal, for I like to think,

That mayflowers, crimson, white and pink,

When I am dust the flowers shall prink,

On days to live and die for;

Tha sun and cloud, as now, shall veer,

And streams run tumbling off the weir,

Where still the mottled trout runs clear

For other men to try for.


I like to think, when I shall go

To this essential dut, that so

I may yet share in flowers that blow

And with such brave sights mingle,

If tossed by summer breeze on high

I’m carried where the cuckoos cry

And dropped beside old thames to lie

A sand grain on the shingle.


Meanwhie the swallows flash and skim

Like blue-black arrows notched and trim,

And splendid kingcups lift a brim

Of gold to king or peasant,

An ‘neath a sky of blue and white

High Spring with Summer waves delight:

‘All right!’ the blackcap calls, ‘All right!’

And life is very pleasant.

The song that the River sang, Fred S Thacker, 1920

The song that the River sang

Ere he merged in the infinite sea;

Like a brave life turned without pang

To its rest in eternity.

And ever he chanted and ever he ran,

And ended with joy as with joy he began;

And thus he sang to me.

I rise in a western hill,

In a covert of dew and of moss,

A murmuring musical rill

A maiden’s leap will cross:

Small furry creatures and snakes that glide

Come stooping to drink in the hot noontide,

And birds my waters toss.


By Lechlade I murmur and run,

Then linger with children at play

In meadows whose lover the Sun

Has filled with the burden of May:

And love has not dimpled the face of a girl

More softly than mine as I eddy and whirl

Where islands check my way.


Mine ancient course I keep

Where Oxford sets her spires,

And out and away I sweep

Through fat and leafy shires;

And clear and strong I hurry down

By the old grey bridge at Henley town,

In a flight that never tires.


By eyot and wind-swept down,

With toll from many a rill,

I wind through the royal town,

And past sweet Cooper’s Hill;

And broad and strong and full to the lips

I cradle at last the mighty ships

Whose sails the sea-winds fill.


So Thames rejoiced and sang

As he drew to the sea and his rest;

His strong soul knew no pang,

Though he lung one sigh to the West:

And brave hearts end like the noble stream,

Having lived life full and “followed the gleam”;

Having sought and won the best.


There is a hill beside the silver Thames, Robert Bridges, 1890

 There is a hill beside the silver Thames,
Shady with birch and beech and odorous pine,
And brilliant under foot with thousand gems
Steeply the thickets to his floods decline.
Straight trees in every place
Their thick tops interlace,
And pendent branches trail their foliage fine
Upon his watery face.

Swift from the sweltering pasturage he flows:

His stream, alert to seek the pleasant shade,

Pictures his gentle purpose as he goes

Straight to the caverned pool his toil has made.

His winter floods lay bare

The stout roots in the air:

His summer streams are cool, when they have played

Among his fibrous hair.


A rushy island guards the sacred bower
And hides it from the meadow, where in peace
The lazy cows wrench many a scented flower,
Robbing the golden market of the bees.
And laden branches float
By banks of myosote;
And scented flag and golden fleur-de-lys
Delay the loitering boat.


And on this side the island, where the pool

Eddies away, are tangled mass on mass

The water-weeds, that net the fishes cool,

And scarce allow a narrow stream to pass:

Where spreading crowfoot mars

The drowning nenuphars,

Waving the tassels of her silken grass

Below her silver stars.


But in the purple pool there nothing grows,

Not the white water-lily spoked with gold:

Though best she loves the hollows, and well knows

On quiet streams her broad shields to unfold:

Yet should her roots but try

Within these deeps to lie,

Not her long reaching stalk could ever hold

Her waxen head so high.


Sometimes an angler comes and drops his hook

Within its hidden depths, and ‘gainst a tree

Leaning his rod, reads in some pleasant book,

Forgetting soon his pride of fishery:

And dreams, or falls asleep,

While curious fishes peep

About his nibbled bait, or scornfully

Dart of and rise and leap.


And sometimes a slow figure ‘neath the trees,

In ancient fashioned smock, with tottering care,

Upon a staff propping his weary knees,

May by the pathway of the forest fare:

As from a buried day

Across the mind will stray

Some perishing mute shadow, - and unaware

He passeth on his way.


Else, he that wishes solitude is safe

Whether he bathe at morning in the stream:

Or lead his love there when the hot hours chafe

The meadows, busy with the bluring stream;

Or watch, as fades the light,

The gibbous moon grow bright,

Until her magic rays dance in a dream,

And glorify the night.


Where is this bower beside the silver Thames?

O pool and flowery thickets, hear my vow!

O trees of freshest foliage and straight stems,

No sharer of my secret I allow:

Lest ere I come the while

Strange feet your shades defile;

Or lest the burly oarsman turns his prow

Within your guardian isle.

His Tears to Thamesis, by Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

I send, I send here my supremest kiss
To thee, my silver-footed Thamesis.
No more shall I reiterate thy Strand,
Whereon so many stately structures stand:
Nor in the summer sweeter evenings go
To bathe in thee, as thousand others do;
No more shall I along thy crystall glide
In barge with boughs and rushes beautifi’d,
With soft-smooth virgins for our chaste disport,
To Richmond, Kingston, and to Hampton Court.
Never again shall I with finny oar
Put from, or draw unto the faithful shore:
And landing here, or safely landing there,
Make way to my beloved Westminster,
Or to the golden Cheapside, where the earth
Of Julia Herrick gave to me my birth.
May all clean nymphs and curious water-dames
With swan-like state float up and down thy streams:
No drought upon thy wanton waters fall
To make them lean and languishing at all.
No ruffling winds come hither to disease
Thy pure and silver-wristed Naiades.
Keep up your state, ye streams; and as ye spring,
Never make sick your banks by surfeiting.
Grow young with tides, and though I see ye never,
Receive this vow, so fare ye well for ever.


O world invisible, Francis Thompson  1859-1907

O world invisible, we view thee,

O world intangible, we touch thee,

O world unknowable we know thee,

Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

Does the fish soar to find the ocean,

The eagle plunge to find the air -

That we ask of the stars in motion

If they have rumour of thee there?


Not where the wheeling systems darken,

And our benumbed conceiving soars! -

The drift of pinions, would we hearken,

Beat at our own clay shuttered doors.

The angels keep their ancient places;-

Turn but a stone, and start a wing!

'Tis ye, 'tis your estranged faces,

That miss the many-splendoured thing.


But  when so sad thou canst not sadder

Cry - and upon thy so sore loss

Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's ladder

Pitched between heaven and Charing Cross

Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,

Cry - clinging heaven by the hems;

And lo, Christ walking on the water,

Not of Gennesareth, but Thames!

The Thames Rivers, © G K Payne 2003

Some fifty rivers help the Thames to swell towards the sea.

From the source, towards the locks, they start off with the Key

In turn, the Churn, Ray, Cole and Coln (the one without an “e”)

Leach, Windrush and Evenlode, how good’s your memory?


I’m only listing rivers, not the brooks or creeks or streams,

Nor canals or drains or other engineering schemes,

Nor side headwater rivers, just those with confluent seams

(even when interment has been taken to extremes).


No Oxford brooks for Oxford dons: here Cherwell joins the game

Downstream find the Ock and Thame - how singular the name -

After a Pang (but not a Bourne) the Kennet joins the frame

And Lodden feeds black water both day and night the same.


Next Wick and Wye and Wraysbury, think treble W

“What of Jubilee?” you cry, should that thought trouble you

‘Tis just a bypass channel that floods can bubble through

(Woe betide the downstream home henceforth a puddle too)


The Shire River boundary (now “County Ditch”) at Staines

River Colne (with “e”) fields north-west London’s rains

The Chertsey Abbey and forked Bourne ensure confusion reigns

Likewise “Wey, the Engine, Ash” has nowt to do with trains.


Together Mole and Ember, not truly on their own,

Rythe, Hogsmill and Longford in the last non-tidal zone.

Upon the ebb, at Isleworth, a Crane is not alone

Here the Dukes, then Brent and Wandle, plus malted cologne.


Seek London’s buried rivers, like Graveney, Effra, Fleet,

Shoreditch, Walbrook and Neckinger somewhere beneath your feet,

The Tyburn and the Ravensbourne, I’m told that one was Sweet,

Ranelagh runs in tubes through Tubes, will not admit defeat.


Returning to the open air, the Pool and Lee are dank

Roding, Beam and Inglebourne all drain the northern flank

Whilst Cray and Darent pour from Kent, and for your time I thank:

Headway from the Medway ends this verse at Doggerel Bank.

© G K Payne 2003

30/1/2003, corrected 7/10/2003 

Printed by kind permission





Thames Passport, to Roy and Cécile Curtis, 1970

The Thames – a well known line upon a map,

Becomes well-loved beneath the skilful pen,

Of these two young explorers.  Bravely when

In winter, guiding far their little boat

Of sudden, mid the ice, fair lilies float,

And every town becomes a magic place –

Coloured with English charm and English grace;

( … ‘to be there’ – then )


Is this not, after all, our wistful wish

To be well-known, but more than this –

To be well-loved, by those we love so well

That neither time nor space can break he spell

Of years and all – gone by,

And that we smile but never cry …

(is this not port-of-call?)


The Scholar-Gipsy, Matthew Arnold, 1822-1888

GO, for they call you, Shepherd, from the hill;
         Go, Shepherd, and untie the wattled cotes:
         No longer leave thy wistful flock unfed,
         Nor let thy bawling fellows rack their throats,
         Nor the cropp'd grasses shoot another head.
         But when the fields are still,
         And the tired men and dogs all gone to rest,
         And only the white sheep are sometimes seen
         Cross and recross the strips of moon-blanch'd green;
Come Shepherd, and again begin the quest.

Here, where the reaper was at work of late,
         In this high field's dark corner, where he leaves
         His coat, his basket, and his earthen cruise,
         And in the sun all morning binds the sheaves,
         Then here, at noon, comes back his stores to use;
         Here will I sit and wait,
         While to my ear from uplands far away
         The bleating of the folded flocks is borne,
         With distant cries of reapers in the corn -  
         All the live murmur of a summer's day.

Screen'd is this nook o'er the high, half-reap'd field,
         And here till sundown, Shepherd, will I be.
         Through the thick corn the scarlet poppies peep,
         And round green roots and yellowing stalks I see
         Pale blue convolvulus in tendrils creep:
         And air-swept lindens yield
         Their scent, and rustle down their perfumed showers
         Of bloom on the bent grass where I am laid,
         And bower me from the August sun with shade;
         And the eye travels down to Oxford's towers:

And near me on the grass lies Glanvil's book -  
         Come, let me read the oft-read tale again:
         The story of that Oxford scholar poor,
         Of pregnant parts and quick inventive brain,
         Who, tired of knocking at Preferment's door,
         One summer morn forsook
         His friends, and went to learn the Gipsy lore,
         And roam'd the world with that wild brotherhood,
         And came, as most men deem'd, to little good,
         But came to Oxford and his friends no more.

But once, years after, in the country lanes,
         Two scholars, whom at college erst he knew,
         Met him, and of his way of life inquired.
         Whereat he answer'd that the Gipsy crew,
         His mates, had arts to rule as they desired
         The workings of men's brains;
         And they can bind them to what thoughts they will:
         'And I,' he said, 'the secret of their art,
         When fully learn'd, will to the world impart:
         But it needs Heaven-sent moments for this skill!'

This said, he left them, and return'd no more,
         But rumours hung about the country-side,
         That the lost Scholar long was seen to stray,
         Seen by rare glimpses, pensive and tongue-tied,
         In hat of antique shape, and cloak of grey,
         The same the Gipsies wore.
         Shepherds had met him on the Hurst in spring;
         At some lone alehouse in the Berkshire moors,
         On the warm ingle-bench, the smock-frock'd boors
         Had found him seated at their entering,

But 'mid their drink and clatter, he would fly:
         And I myself seem half to know thy looks,
         And put the shepherds, Wanderer, on thy trace;
         And boys who in lone wheatfields scare the rooks
         I ask if thou hast pass'd their quiet place;
         Or in my boat I lie
         Moor'd to the cool bank in the summer heats,
         'Mid wide grass meadows which the sunshine fills,
         And watch the warm green-muffled Cumnor hills,
         And wonder if thou haunt'st their shy retreats.

For most, I know, thou lov'st retired ground.
         Thee, at the ferry, Oxford riders blithe,
         Returning home on summer nights, have met
         Crossing the stripling Thames at Bablock-hithe,
         Trailing in the cool stream thy fingers wet,
         As the slow punt swings round:
         And leaning backwards in a pensive dream,
         And fostering in thy lap a heap of flowers
         Pluck'd in shy fields and distant Wychwood bowers,
         And thine eyes resting on the moonlit stream:

And then they land, and thou art seen no more.
         Maidens who from the distant hamlets come
         To dance around the Fyfield elm in May,
         Oft through the darkening fields have seen thee roam,
         Or cross a stile into the public way.
         Oft thou hast given them store
         Of flowers - the frail-leaf'd, white anemone -  
         Dark bluebells drench'd with dews of summer eves,
         And purple orchises with spotted leaves -  
         But none has words she can report of thee.

And, above Godstow Bridge, when hay-time 's here
         In June, and many a scythe in sunshine flames,
         Men who through those wide fields of breezy grass
         Where black-wing'd swallows haunt the glittering Thames,
         To bathe in the abandon'd lasher pass,
         Have often pass'd thee near
         Sitting upon the river bank o'ergrown:
         Mark'd thine outlandish garb, thy figure spare,
         Thy dark vague eyes, and soft abstracted air;
         But, when they came from bathing, thou wert gone.

At some lone homestead in the Cumnor hills,
         Where at her open door the housewife darns,
         Thou hast been seen, or hanging on a gate
         To watch the threshers in the mossy barns.
         Children, who early range these slopes and late
         For cresses from the rills,
         Have known thee watching, all an April day,
         The springing pastures and the feeding kine;
         And mark'd thee, when the stars come out and shine,
         Through the long dewy grass move slow away.

In autumn, on the skirts of Bagley Wood,
         Where most the Gipsies by the turf-edged way
         Pitch their smoked tents, and every bush you see
         With scarlet patches tagg'd and shreds of gray,
         Above the forest-ground call'd Thessaly -  
         The blackbird picking food
         Sees thee, nor stops his meal, nor fears at all;
         So often has he known thee past him stray
         Rapt, twirling in thy hand a wither'd spray,
         And waiting for the spark from Heaven to fall.

And once, in winter, on the causeway chill
         Where home through flooded fields foot-travellers go,
         Have I not pass'd thee on the wooden bridge
         Wrapt in thy cloak and battling with the snow,
         Thy face towards Hinksey and its wintry ridge?
         And thou hast climb'd the hill
         And gain'd the white brow of the Cumnor range;
         Turn'd once to watch, while thick the snowflakes fall,
         The line of festal light in Christ Church hall -  
         Then sought thy straw in some sequester'd grange.

But what - I dream! Two hundred years are flown
         Since first thy story ran through Oxford halls,
         And the grave Glanvil did the tale inscribe
         That thou wert wander'd from the studious walls
         To learn strange arts, and join a Gipsy tribe:
         And thou from earth art gone
         Long since and in some quiet churchyard laid;
         Some country nook, where o'er thy unknown grave
         Tall grasses and white flowering nettles wave -  
         Under a dark red-fruited yew-tree's shade.

 - No, no, thou hast not felt the lapse of hours.
         For what wears out the life of mortal men?
         'Tis that from change to change their being rolls:
         'Tis that repeated shocks, again, again,
         Exhaust the energy of strongest souls,
         And numb the elastic powers.
         Till having used our nerves with bliss and teen,
         And tired upon a thousand schemes our wit,
         To the just-pausing Genius we remit
         Our worn-out life, and are - what we have been.

Thou hast not lived, why shouldst thou perish, so?
         Thou hadst one aim, one business, one desire:
         Else wert thou long since number'd with the dead -  
         Else hadst thou spent, like other men, thy fire.
         The generations of thy peers are fled,
         And we ourselves shall go;
         But thou possessest an immortal lot,
         And we imagine thee exempt from age
         And living as thou liv'st on Glanvil's page,
         Because thou hadst - what we, alas, have not!

For early didst thou leave the world, with powers
         Fresh, undiverted to the world without,
         Firm to their mark, not spent on other things;
         Free from the sick fatigue, the languid doubt,
         Which much to have tried, in much been baffled, brings.
         O Life unlike to ours!
         Who fluctuate idly without term or scope,
         Of whom each strives, nor knows for what he strives,
         And each half lives a hundred different lives;
         Who wait like thee, but not, like thee, in hope.

Thou waitest for the spark from Heaven: and we,
         Vague half-believers of our casual creeds,
         Who never deeply felt, nor clearly will'd,
         Whose insight never has borne fruit in deeds,
         Whose weak resolves never have been fulfill'd;
         For whom each year we see
         Breeds new beginnings, disappointments new;
         Who hesitate and falter life away,
         And lose to-morrow the ground won to-day -  
         Ah, do not we, Wanderer, await it too?

Yes, we await it, but it still delays,
         And then we suffer; and amongst us One,
         Who most has suffer'd, takes dejectedly
         His seat upon the intellectual throne;
         And all his store of sad experience he
         Lays bare of wretched days;
         Tells us his misery's birth and growth and signs,
         And how the dying spark of hope was fed,
         And how the breast was soothed, and how the head,
         And all his hourly varied anodynes.

This for our wisest: and we others pine,
         And wish the long unhappy dream would end,
         And waive all claim to bliss, and try to bear,
         With close-lipp'd Patience for our only friend,
         Sad Patience, too near neighbour to Despair:
         But none has hope like thine.
         Thou through the fields and through the woods dost stray,
         Roaming the country-side, a truant boy,
         Nursing thy project in unclouded joy,
         And every doubt long blown by time away.

O born in days when wits were fresh and clear,
         And life ran gaily as the sparkling Thames;
         Before this strange disease of modern life,
         With its sick hurry, its divided aims,
         Its heads o'ertax'd, its palsied hearts, was rife -  
         Fly hence, our contact fear!
         Still fly, plunge deeper in the bowering wood!
         Averse, as Dido did with gesture stern
         From her false friend's approach in Hades turn,
         Wave us away, and keep thy solitude.

Still nursing the unconquerable hope,
         Still clutching the inviolable shade,
         With a free onward impulse brushing through,
         By night, the silver'd branches of the glade -  
         Far on the forest-skirts, where none pursue,
         On some mild pastoral slope
         Emerge, and resting on the moonlit pales,
         Freshen they flowers, as in former years,
         With dew, or listen with enchanted ears,
         From the dark dingles, to the nightingales.

But fly our paths, our feverish contact fly!
         For strong the infection of our mental strife,
         Which, though it gives no bliss, yet spoils for rest;
         And we should win thee from they own fair life,
         Like us distracted, and like us unblest.
         Soon, soon thy cheer would die,
         Thy hopes grow timorous, and unfix'd they powers,
         And they clear aims be cross and shifting made:
         And then thy glad perennial youth would fade,
         Fade, and grow old at last, and die like ours.

Then fly our greetings, fly our speech and smiles!
          - As some grave Tyrian trader, from the sea,
         Descried at sunrise an emerging prow
         Lifting the cool-hair'd creepers stealthily,
         The fringes of a southward-facing brow
         Among the Aegean isles;
         And saw the merry Grecian coaster come,
         Freighted with amber grapes, and Chian wine,
         Green bursting figs, and tunnies steep'd in brine;
         And knew the intruders on his ancient home,

The young light-hearted Masters of the waves;
         And snatch'd his rudder, and shook out more sail,
         And day and night held on indignantly
         O'er the blue Midland waters with the gale,
         Betwixt the Syrtes and soft Sicily,
         To where the Atlantic raves
         Outside the Western Straits, and unbent sails
         There, where down cloudy cliffs, through sheets of foam,
         Shy traffickers, the dark Iberians come;
         And on the beach undid his corded bales.


From Thyrsis, Matthew Arnold, 1867

Well! Wind-dispersed and vain the words will be,

Yet, Thrysis, let me give its grief its hour

In the old haunt, and find out tree-topp’d hill!

Who, if not I, for questing here hath power?

I know the wood which hides the daffodil,

I know the Fyfield tree,

I know what white, what purple fritillaries

The grassy harvest of the river-fields,

Above by Ensham, down by Sandford, yields;

And what sedged brooks are Thames’s tributaries.


I know these slopes; who knows them if not I?

But many a dingle on the loved hil-side,

With thorns once studded, old white-blossom’d trees,

Where thick the cowslips grew, and, far descried,

High tower’d the spikes of purple orchises,

Hath since our day put by

The coronals pf tha forgotten time;

Down each green bank hath gone the plough-boy’s team,

And only in the hidden brookside gleam

Primroses, orphans of the flowery prime.


Where is the girl, who, by the boatman’s door,

Above the locks, above the boating thrng,

Unmoor’d our skiff, when through the Wytham flats,

Red loose-strife and blond meadow-sweet among,

And darting swallows, and light water-gnats,

We track’d the shy Thames shore?

Where are the mowers, who, as the tiny swell

Of our boat passing heaved the river grass,

Stood with suspended scythe to see us pass?

They are all gone, and thou art gone as well.

From The Legend of Robert, Duke of Normandy, Michael Drayton, 1596

And the rathe morning, newly but awake,

Was with fresh beauty burnishing her brows,

Herself beholding in the general lake,

To which she pays her never ceasing vows,

With the new day me willingly to rouse,

Down to fair Thames I gently took my way.


Striving to fancy his chaste breast to move,

Whereas all pleasures plentifully flow,

When him along the wanton tide doth shove,

And to keep back, they easily do blow,

Or else force forward, thinking him too slow;

Who with his waves would check the wind’s embrace,

Whilst they fan air upon his crystal face.


Still forward sallying from his bounteous source,

Along the shores lasciviously doth strain,

Making such strange meanders in his course,

As to his fountain he would back gain,

Or turned about to look upon his train;

Whose sundry soils with coy regard he greets,

Till with clear Medway happily he meets.


Steering my compass by this wondering stream,

Whose flight preached to me time’s swift posting hours,

Delighted thus, as with some pretty dream,

Where pleasure wholly had possessed my powers,

And looking back on London’s stately towers,

So Troy, thought I, her stately head did rear,

Whose crazed ribs the furrowing plough did rear.


From Polyolbion, Michael Drayton, 1622

But now this mighty flood, upon his voyage prest,

(That found how with his strength, his beauties still increased,

From where brave Windsor stood on tiptoe to behold

The fair and goodly Thames, so far as e’er he could,

With kingly houses crowned, of more than earthly pride,

Upon his ether banks, as he along doth glide),

With woinderful delight oth his long course pursue,

Where Oatlands, Hampton Court, and Richmond he doth view.

Then Westmnster the next Great Thames doth entertain,

That vaunts her palace large, and her most sumptuous fane:

The land’s tribunal seat that challengeth for hers,

The crowning of our Kings, their famous sepulchres.

Then goes he on along by that more beauteous Strand,

Expressing both the wealth and bravery of the land.

(So many sumptuous bowers, within so little space,

The all-beholding sun scarce sees in all his race.)

And on by London leads, which like a crescent lies,

Whose windows seem to mock the star be-freckled skies;

Beside her rising spires, o thick themselves that show,

As do the bristling reeds within his banks that grow.

There sees his crowded wharfs, and people pest’red shores,

His bosom overspread with shoals of lab’ring oars;

With that most costly bridge that doth him mostrenown,

By which he clearly puts all other rivers down.


From Cooper’s Hill, Sir John Denham, 1642 

My eye descending from the hill surveys

Where Thames among the wanton valleys strays.

Thames the most loved of all the ocean’s sons

By his old sire, to his embraces runs;

Hastening to pay his tribute to the sea,

Like mortal life to meet eternity.

Though with those streams he no resemblance holds,

Whose foam is amber, and their gravel gold;

His genuine and less guilty wealth t’explore,

Search not his bottom, but survey his shore;

O’er which he kindly spread his spacious wing,

And hatches plenty for the ensuing spring

Not then destroys it with too fond a stay,

Like mothers which their infants overlay;

Nor with a sudden and impetuous wave,

Like profuse kings, resumes the wealth he gave,

No unexpected inundations spoil

The mower’s hopes, nor mocks the ploughman’s toil:

But god-like his unweary’d bounty flows;

First loves to do, then loves the good he does.

Nor are his blessings to his banks confin’d,

But free, and common, as the sea or wind;

When he, to boast or to disperse his stores,

Visits the world, and in his flying towers

Brings home to us, and make both Indies ours:

Finds wealth where ‘tis, bestows it where it wants,

Cities in deserts, woods in cities plants.

So that to us no thing, no place is strange,

While his fair bosom is the world’s exchange.

O could I flow like thee, and make thy streams

My great example, as it is my theme!

Though deep, yet clear;  though gentle, yet not dull;

Strong without rage, without o’erflowing full.


From the Growth of Love, Robert Bridges, 1876

An idle June day on the sunny Thames,

Floating or rowing as our fancy led,

Now in the high beams basking as we sped,

Now in the green shade gliding by mirror’d stems;

By lock and weir and isle, and many a spot

Of memoried pleasure, glad with strength and skill,

Friendship, good wine, and mirth, that serve not ill

The heavenly Muse, tho’ she requite them not.


I would have life – thou saidst – all as this day,

Simple enjoyment calm in its excess,

With not a grief to cloud, and not a ray

Of passion overhot my peace to oppress;

With no ambition to reproach delay,

Nor rapture to disturb its happiness.