Ballad of the Drover

It must have been August when we last walked to the old packhorse bridge over the Avon.  English Heritage says the bridge was built in 1725, with a repair by the County Council in 1856.  In summer, I remember struggling through waist-high burdock and thistle, but now it’s just teasle and grass hummocks you have to avoid as you look for the path.

Before such routes were replaced by turnpikes and canals, this beautifully proportioned bridge would have been an important drover route connecting Waddon, Semington and Broughton Gifford.  In his Ballad of the Drover, Philip Larkin reminds us that, when there were no such bridges to carry horse and human safely across fast rivers, travel could be perilous.

This is how the poem ends …

Across the flooded lowlands
And slopes of sodden loam
The pack-horse struggles onward,
To take dumb tidings home.
And mud-stained, wet, and weary,
Through ranges dark goes he;
While hobble-chains and tinware
Are sounding eerily.

The floods are in the ocean,
The stream is clear again,
And now a verdant carpet
Is stretched across the plain.
But someone’s eyes are saddened,
And someone’s heart still bleeds
In sorrow for the drover
Who sleeps among the reeds.

February 2012

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