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Thames Between Greenwich and the Tower

Gun-metal grey, the river fills its channel
all the afternoon. It hasn’t finished yet.
It climbs the mosses on the warehouse walls.
Each flight of river stairs is drowned.

The southward swerve, the confidence,
the creature’s own instinctive grace.

I’ve seen it in all lights today.
Today is March, and every season’s miniature
has trafficked and paraded in the sky.
We’ve been through murk, hail, pelting winds
and suddenly a summer evening, so it seems,
where steady light stands blandly on the buildings.

At noon, two stumps of rainbow came and went,
set in a frame the slack commercial water,
bits of a geometric whole
whose bridging section was invisible.

Before the docks were built, uncorseted
the river would in season flood
the easy margins of its marsh.
They wharfed it in, made it work.

Three noisy centuries ran by. Now every reach is idle.
Ratcliffe and Rotherhithe, Surrey Docks, London Docks: idle.
Three centuries crowned a few with wealth
argosied here from all the earth;
millions whose names have been forgotten
lived their side of that hard bargain.

Bypassed and unprofitable, the river’s feathers ruffle,
change from grey to blue. The level tide slides seaward.
The day has turned its coat the final time
(I think) and left the bright side out.

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by Peter Hetherington