A hard grey day, haloed with fret; Soiled towers poke from broken walls and bitter grass, Merge with the sky, matching its colour. Smashed bricks lie scattered: the terminal moraine Of masonry, or nunataks from times when Here were streets.
On such a morning – Hands that chop fsh must still persist; Rime and frost are into the bones, into the buildings. And work is a hardship, movement slow In this low land of wharf and quay: Land fit for shed and hut for groyne and rack, Where inlets swirl in empty dock. Waves hiss on stumps of midden, and piers Fang the outfow.
So, long ago — Bald priory and castled cliff, high above waves, Outlined a chill reception to invading force; Then still in later rift this open aperture, Fanned by the searchlight and the buttressed gun, Maintained alertness as the seeking probe Found partner’s shaft on southern side, in cross Above each pier.
Now, in our longer times — Beacons with lamp and buoy and bell Welcome to narrowing turns, where cranes, Decapitated, beckon and wave and, Waning in strength, cry out For use, for safety from the dredge Of cleared bankside — tomorrow’s promise, Tomorrow’s jam, tomorrow’s Amputation.
Yet now, on such an afternoon — In summer day when gain of sunshine Lightens the sand and whitens waves, And crowds spread beachward, looking for lungs, We seek the spectacle: A holiday and leisured view, Where eyes can plot to coloured sails, Dotted like flags, tiny like toys, To dream of ocean liner When coast is clear.
So not today the workshop, workhouse, River for steerage and correction, But, open for all, our harbour yields — to enter Tourist shopping list: keen to forget The ballast by the lighted doorway, scunnered wrecks, And take for joy one present sporting toss:
Parkland and playpool on yesterday’s loss.
From Concealed Drives, a collection of poems framing thoughts and lamentations on bygone eras in North East England.
Jerome Hanratty was the author of 5 volumes of the Wheel of Poetry, as well as a host of other books and plays. He lived through the Depression, wartime, and subsequent phases of development, decay and regeneration; seemingly eternal cycles that have shaped the region through the ages.