Deep state

DEREK TURNER is editor of The Brazen Head. He is also a novelist, reviewer, travelogist, and the author of the chorography Edge of England: Landfall in Lincolnshire (Hurst, 2022). Twitter: @derekturner1964. Instagram: edge.of.england

“Stilled legendary depth:
It was as deep as England”

‘Pike’, Ted Hughes

The plumber’s van’s been standing since the small hours

At the fishing-place beside the chartered town;

Its driver has been sounding deeper waters

Since he set up as the night was going down.

He saw the sun come wheeling up from ocean,

Watched whitening sky go glowing into gold;

Heard the birds orchestrate their calling,

Stamped booted feet to counteract life’s cold.

Cynosure of today these level courses –

These muddy understated lowland drains

Whose depths hide evolution’s shining forces –

Silver knights swim pricking on these plains.

Other men stare silent at reflections,

Itching for a twitch upon their lines,

Unknowing echo ancient Izaak Walton,

Compleatest anglers, contemplating time.

Coarse fishers here can sit on thrones like Doges

Wedded to the waters of their wealth;

Serene for once among the mace and sedges,

Each man an island nation to himself.

Slow surface holds deep state of planted kingdoms,

Mirrors showing sallow, alder, oak –

Chlorophylled and kingly-symbolled leaves

The royal trees on any English road.

The tops of reeds stand proud among sheet-silver,

Their dirty roots outshone by swelling light –

Excaliburs – or the lances of dead riders

Who rode here once to set the east alight.

Waterfowl calls urgently to offspring –

Brown fuzzy balls bob cheeping at her steer.

The angler cannot stop himself from smiling,

As he casts for luck across the haunted mere.

(Awake by now at home, his fishing widow,

Sipping her first coffee of the day.

Smiling at her grandkids out the window –

Her ducklings’ ducks, so soon to swim away.)

The plants that edge the lake have grown here always;

Reseeded from some Anglo-Saxon store –

Marginalia from the seventh century,

Still richly green if now less filled with lore.

Epona tails of Rome and Celt connections

Vanished lands in floreated forms –

Lush lowland lawn, these thronging herbs of nations,

Forget-me-nots and flags, dog-rose and thorn.

Apothecaries prospected these elixirs,

Water-mint and yarrow, woad and rue –

Cut and dried for daubed dog-Latined ewers,

Cures for flux, stone, plague, and marsh-ague.

Pallid fish slide silent near the surface

Or nose among new-inundated grass,

Animals always searching for advantage,

Ghosts glimpsed in oxidising antique glass.

Carp suck and spap and rise to find him casting;

Their ancestors gaped for God-believing men;

Now endless sky, that abbey’s painted ceiling –

Great fane forlorn, foundation lost in fen.

He throws his line along the deepest margins,

His hook hangs in the decomposing ooze;

He hovers with all fish beyond all ageing –

Quick and dead commingled in long view.