Although you feel quite sure each wave must know
how fatuous and futile is its task,
despite all this, they surge against the rocks.
Each one is broken and the rest come in,
oblivious to how the one before
has been destroyed and how the cliff still stands,
unchanging and as permanent as time.
And then one day, against a clear blue sky,
down fall the crags, the houses and hotels
and people say "It was the sea that did it".
Yet no one marks for special note
the wave that brought the whole thing crashing down
or says that it was more or less a wave
than all the thousands of forgotten ones
that came and broke themselves against the shore
by day and night for all those years before.
I knew that we had reached the coast
before we came over the hill
and saw the sun glance off the waves.
I knew as soon as the light changed,
becoming hard and brittle like
a salt crystal across the sky.
The light so sharp it cut my eyes
and bleached the grass down on the dunes.
That evening, as the sun was setting,
a raft of cloud on the horizon
became an isle of rose pink hills,
towards which fishing boats lit red
then green and white now crept their way.
Do you remember how the waves
glowed phosphorescent on the sand
when we stayed on the beach all night,
and darkness wrapped us like a rug
while Fastnet strobed in time with the surf?
I showed you how to find the pole star
by tracking from the blade of the plough
and then we looked to sea and gasped
seeing a river of white lights
that stretched across the eastern sky.
I have never, before or since,
looked up and seen the Milky Way,
so clear and bright against the black.
Our skys at home are pale and grey
not black and silver like that night.
The Sky is dark; the clouds pregnant with thunder.
Expectant silence hangs above the tracks,
the Beeching-closed and tumbled station yard.
A boy is standing on the cinder path,
his bicycle leaned up against the wall.
The derelict, abandoned yard, the road,
the gardens and the jackdaws in the trees
are listening and waiting; all quite still.
A fragment of a sound intrudes into
that sultry, brooding August afternoon.
A flash of sound, then silence once again.
The jackdaws did not hear - only the boy
who listens to the sound time and again
to give the nameless thing he heard a name.
He knows on empty tracks he heard a train.
He heard a steam train, but he saw no train.
The boy became a man and I forgot
that afternoon beside the railway line;
until today. Whilst browsing antique books
I opened this and saw in sepia tones
the shattered engine and the mangled rails
across the yard beside the cinder path,
a late and sultry August afternoon,
a century and two score years ago.