26th September. Finding the source of the stream

‘An old man seeking and finding a difficulty.
Has he remembered his compass his spare socks
Does he fully intend going in over his knees off the
Military track from Okehampton?
Keeping his course through the swamp spaces
And pulling the distance around his shoulders
And if it rains, if it thunders suddenly
Where will he shelter looking around
And all that lies to hand is his own bones?
Tussocks, minute flies,
Wind, wings, roots
He consults his map. A huge rain-coloured wilderness.
This must be the stones, the sudden movement,
The sound of frogs singing in the new year.
Who’s this issuing from the earth?
The dart, lying low in darkness calls out Who is it?
Trying to summon itself by speaking …’

Extract from Dart by Alice Oswald (2003, lines 1-18)* 

26th September. It looks like the trackway becomes a waterway in Winter with a deep cutting down to the granite bedrock through the hedge to the left. Its now still dry. We followed it (my dog and I) and found what we had been looking for – the pond for ed from the spring at the head of the stream. It looks – and smells – stagnant – of cattle. Tyla of course had to go in for a swim… But you can see beneath the surface the gentle ripple of movement. This is no drainage pond. It marks the beginning of something … and the end. A peaceful spot – it has turned out warm with a gently late summer breeze – the sound of trees swirling – a far cry from waters raging in the tumultuous Atlantic little more than a mile away. Such a lot can happen in a short space of time.


* The poet Alice Oswald spent a year following the River Dart from its heads (its a convergence of two moorland streams) down to the sea, talking with people she met and gathering material. In the ensuing epic the river takes on many voices, layered together in a tapestry of text designed for reading out loud. It starts  with the voice of the river (at this point barely a stream). Lines 1-18.
(‘note in the text ‘the source of the Dart – Cranmere Pool on Dartmoor, seven miles from the road’)

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