The following poem was inspired by a recent trip to the beautiful Bolton Abbey Estate and priory in the Yorkshire Dales. As a writer, it is impossible, driving through the desolate, heather-strewn landscapes of West Yorkshire and the Dales not be reminded of the Bronte’s. (Their excursion to the priory in September 1833 is documented by family friend Ellen Nussey in a book entitled, Yorkshire Dales – A View from the Millenium). Bolton Abbey remains an excellent choice for anyone seeking a memorable day out with the family.
‘Cathy’s Lament’ is part homage to a favourite literary heroine, Cathy Earnshaw, who wished to remain, “half-savage, and hardy, and free…” The poem also expresses a fondness for my own rural childhood, and remembrance of learning to swim in the River Rye, North Yorks. As an aside, if you’re a fan of Wuthering Heights, do check out Andrea Arnold’s 2011 film adaptation – it captures the wildness of Cathy brilliantly.
We choose the higher of two paths;
its edges, sliced clean as cake,
unveil bramble husks and silt-water trickles
that my lad dams up with stones furred green.
Beyond the thicket, a swollen river rushes,
a dog drowns, but for a bark.
Men yell, careen downstream in rubber rings,
past families littered and gawping on the banks,
each a world unto themselves.
In vain, I tell him water finds its course.
His ruin of stone, riddled with fissures,
scarce holds back the weight of sound.
Nor can priory wall contain
the spores of supplications, drifting.
Eight hundred and fifty years the faithful lived,
kneeling at this puncture wound of earth and stone.
Buckled to a chamber, now of grass,
I touch and believe, even whilst keening
for the rust-orange spume;
that rages unquelled,
for the river chest-deep, and furious,
savage, and hardy, and free,
into which youth wades, fearless and unaware,
as leaves fit for falling.
Is this how we learn to swim:
drowning and waving at our ghosts?
Or are you, river, a collection of memoranda
that she did exist:
ruin and floodgate to that lassie lost?
I thirst, I thirst.
the glorious purple heather blooms.
©Victoria Delderfield, 23/8/16