Lent 33: Dart

Alice Oswald’s second book, Dart, is a 48 page long poem in the voice of the river Dart as it flows from its source to the sea. It’s based on three years of interviews with local inhabitants around the river, and creates a compelling character.

It took me about an hour to read it all together, I think it would be a shame not to be able to read it in one sitting. I was uncustomarily lucky – Polly usually has about a two hour nap in the afternoon. Foolishly, I started reading two hours into said nap. For some reason, she stayed asleep for another hour. In places, the pace of the poem picks up – because I was racing against both Polly’s nap and the declining daylight, at these points my reading rate increased dramatically, and I’d have to stop and slow down a few times as I raced on inappropriately.

Along the riverbank we call in, amongst other settings, on a water treatment plant, a dairy and a pub full of poachers. We meet walkers, otter spotters and canoeists. It’s a varied yet somehow coherent ride.

Obviously I can’t share a full poem here as I have been doing, because it IS a full poem, but I’ll share a few extracts, chosen simply to illustrate a couple of the different voices and styles within the whole. The titles in bold are taken from the margin notes or simply made up.

     ‘Dart Dart / Every year thou / Claimest a heart.’

     in Spring when
     the river gives
     up her dead

     I saw you
     rise dragging your
     shadows in water

     all summer I
     saw you soaked
     through and sinking

     and the crack
     and shriek as
     you lost bones

     God how I
     wish I could
     bury death deep

     under the river
     like that canoeist
     just testing his

     strokes in the
     quick moving water
     which buried him


     I knew a heron once, when it got up
     its wings were the width of the river,
     I saw it eat an eel alive
     and the eel the eel chewed its way back inside out through the heron’s stomach
     like when I creep through bridges right in along a ledge to see where the dippers nest.
     Going through holes, I love that, the last thing through here was an otter


     a hundred down and outs the sea
     uninterestedly threw
     from one hand to the other, where
     to wash this numbness to?

     An island of undisturbed woods,
     rises in the waves,
     a great spire of birdsong
     out of a nave of leaves.

     There a goddess calls them,
     ‘Take aim, take heart,
     Trojans, you’ve got to sail
     till the sea meets the Dart.

     Where salmon swim with many a glittering
     and herons flare and fold,
     look for a race of freshwater
     filling the sea with gold. […]’

View the intro/roundup.

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One Response to Lent 33: Dart

  1. Pingback: 40 Poems of Lent: an introduction & roundup | impeus.com

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