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Barton Broad by Hugh Lupton

Poet Hugh Lupton has created this poem inspired by the location, as part of our Barton Broads film. Read the full poem below:

What was it?

What was it,

that face

the airmen saw one dawn flight

at the height of war,

solemn in the water’s glass

far below,

framed by reed and alder carrs,

wraithed in mist at first light?


Was its mouth

the wake an otter cut?

Did perch and pike

break surface and make

the round pupils of its sight?

Did a wind from the south

stipple and lap and lace

little waves into

the sleek oval of its face?


Did these things meet

in that split moment


by those airmen from their cockpits

in dawn light of

nineteen sixteen?


Or was it the face of

an old god

of death and birth

of mud and bud and wood,

of sap and bone and blood

keeping its long measure

of the night

and the waxing light?


Was it already

in the sodden ground

when diggers came

with long spades

and found the peat?

Did it flinch when they cut skin to bone

and took the black gold of its flesh

to heat ten thousand homes?


Did it bask in the glory years

when each thought

was water crystal clear

and countless eels writhed

in its deeps

and stickleback, rudd, tench

darted, raced

and were the consciousness

behind its face;

when bittern, heron,

goose, kingfisher and swan

were its shifting mood,

its speech and song.


Where did it go, that face,

in the dark days

when toxic seep took hold

and algae clouded every thought

and life irrepressible

grew weary and old

and the eels disappeared?


Can we see it again…


as the waters clear

and the old denizens

of broad and fen


come close again?


And where will it be

if glaciers melt and seas rise

and salt streams overwhelm the fresh

and sand is carried by the tide

and all this green and tender land

is melted into estuary?


But let’s not talk of what has been,

what’s yet to come.

Look again… now.

The Broad is always now,

and its face

as ancient and young

as skull and bone

beneath your skin.

Was the face the airmen saw

that time

their own?

Lean over, look down,

is it yours and mine?