The River Deben near my home – a place where I walk as many days as I can – ebbs and flows through my thoughts and my writing. It is tidal here, edged with mud and reeds, and it is rich with life. There is always something to see, if you look.
In this case, I did not see the heron my walking by the quiet creek disturbed, not until it took off, anyway. I thought of how attentive I need to be, and sometimes am, as a writer. How I need to be open to what is going on around me, to notice and to receive. In the poem I talk of hunting for words, as the heron for fish – but it is not just the bright silver words, it is also being alert for meaning, for truth, for connection. The words do not feel like mine, always, they do feel like something caught, overheard, given – even when they are wrestled with later, honed and rearranged until they better match what it is that I experienced. Then, I set them free.
The heron takes off –
ragged, heavy, a smudged
mud-grey, a shadow-grey
I had not seen it there
Its feathers, pointed reed-leaves,
its legs, thin in the wind reed-stems
its downbeats long and laboured,
straining, slow, like my August walking.
This is how it would have been, though,
before: still and silent in the reeds,
hidden, waiting for the moment
to spear one bright silver fish,
a swift stab of that powerful beak,
then back to silence, stillness.
As my path shimmers in the heat,
the soles of my feet hot through my shoes,
I think that is where I too would be,
hidden in cool reed-shadows,
in stillness, quietness, watching for
bright silver words to dart by,
catching them with my mouth.
But then I look up, and see those
long black flight-feathers finally bite
the air, and the heron, neck doubled back,
soars high, at last, over reedbed,
over river, its down-arched wings
wide over the earth.
And, a short extract from the first chapter of Prayers and Verses
Lord, purge our eyes to see
Within the seed a tree,
Within the glowing egg a bird,
Within the shroud a butterfly.
Till, taught by such we see
Beyond all creatures, thee
And harken to thy tender word
And hear its “Fear not; it is I”.
Christina Rosetti 1830-94
O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us.
Basil the Great c330-379
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772–1834