Saturday, 15 June 2013

Bablock Hythe

I first became interested in the poetry of Laurence Binyon last year, when I read 'Ferry Hinksey', and then again in the autumn, in 'the time of the burning of the leaves'; I've been waiting from that time until now - 'the time of wild roses' - to post the following poem. 

Bablock Hythe

In the time of wild roses
As up Thames we travelled
Where 'mid water-weeds ravelled
The lily uncloses,

To his old shores the river
A new song was singing,
And young shoots were springing
On old roots for ever.

Dog-daisies were dancing,
And flags flamed in cluster,
On the dark stream a 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.

I love this dreamy poem, especially the fourth verse. Bablock Hythe (like Ferry Hinksey in the Binyon poem linked above) is a place on the Thames, upriver from Oxford, and formerly the site of a ferry-crossing. According to this site - which I highly recommend if you want to explore the literary history of the Thames - Bablock Hythe is eleven miles by winding river from Oxford, though only four miles by road. (It's not far from Stanton Harcourt, which gives me an excuse to link to one of my favourite posts.) If Binyon's lovers were lucky, they might have encountered there the Scholar Gipsy, 'crossing the stripling Thames at Bablock-hithe'; their woods, meadows and 'old hills greenly mounded' can all be found in Arnold's poem, too: 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 backward 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.

'Bablock Hythe' was published in Binyon's England and Other Poems in 1909. This collection also contains a poem about the Battle of Stamford Bridge, which begins:

"Haste thee, Harold, haste thee North!
Norway ships in Humber crowd.
Tall Hardrada, Sigurd's son,
For thy ruin this hath done-
England for his own hath vowed.

"The earls have fought, the earls are fled.
From Tyne to Ouse the homesteads flame.
York behind her battered wall
Waits the instant of her fall
And the shame of England's name.

"Traitor Tosti's banner streams
With the invading Raven's wing;
Black the land and red the skies
Where Northumbria bleeds and cries
For thy vengeance, England's King!"

Three more English rivers there - a long way from the tranquil Thames at Bablock Hythe.

For more poems about lovers and rivers, see this post.

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