River Poem: Homecoming

The River Deben at dusk.

The river is quieter in the summer – at least, it’s quieter for birds. It is busy with us humans loving and enjoying sailing and swimming and rowing and all the other things which bring us onto and into the river. There’s been much going on too about protecting the river, and I was part of an event a little while ago where we celebrated and spoke up for our river, which is the lifeblood of the town and its people, as well as all the other communities of creatures within and around it. You can read a little more about all this here if you would wish.

Photo by Lorraine Ruth Leach, Save the Deben

But, this is a poem about those birds, mainly the waders, who are far away to the north all summer. It’s so good when begin to return, as they do now and all through the shortening days. The lowlands of the east are a haven for so many migrating birds, and many are working to protect and enhance the wild places that shelter them. Just this week, the Suffolk Wildlife Trust have announced very exciting plans for rewilding part of the Deben’s watershed – Martlesham Wilds. You can read about that here.

Over the long and beautiful days of summer, I miss the winter birds – the godwits and the lapwings and the curlews and the redshanks, and so many others. I feel so honoured to live in a place blessed by their presence, by their return year after year. It’s so precious, and precarious. So here is a poem that rose up as I leaned on the flood defences, and watched the sky and the mud, and greeted the homecoming birds.


Oh, the waders are returning –
swooping now over the water,
their wings and tails flashed
with white against the slow dark
shimmer of river and mud.

How good to see them again,
to hear them again,
their plaintive calls
rising like long echoes of
winter, of the far north
where they have been
all summer long.

The godwits have their heads
down now, probing river-mud
for worms – again and again,
hungry, windblown,
wings aching with effort
of flight across open,
chilling seas, exhausted
and home at last, jabbing and
jabbing with their strong beaks
for worms that have been
quiet all summer, deep down,
low with heat and drought.

How I have missed them,
with their cries and angled flight,
and as the days darken,
it feels now as it does
when old friends return,
and we share a table together,
feasting and talking long
into the gathering night,
together, and content.

4 thoughts on “River Poem: Homecoming

  1. Having grown up near the Ohio River which carries my family’s past, present and now future, I find your poem quite meaningful in so many ways. The family history ranges from recreation to drowning, to a cite to behold and a destination for parents to take their children and Telly stories of the flood and the dad’s swim across, This past weekend the river witness the wedding dinner of my niece, and so the story continue now in the most love filled and adventurous of ways. Thanks for inspiring me to take time to reflect… Gail LeMay This is a stunning poem, reminding me of Wendell Berry. If not already prize-winning you should take your wonderful creation to a publisher, and enter it into competition. 
    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPad


    • Thank you so much for sharing your and your family’s story with me. I am deeply touched. I hope your river continues to flow with love and depth of life for you. I am so glad to hear of your niece and her celebration. I wish her and her spouse much joy.
      I am awed by the comparison to Wendell Berry, one of my heroes. I have so much respect and admiration for his work. And thank you too for the encouragement to find a publisher. It is a dream of mine.
      Bless you and your loved ones and your river.


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