In the latest issue:

Botanic Macaroni

Steven Shapin

What made the Vikings tick?

Tom Shippey

In the Lab

Rupert Beale

Will there be a Brexit deal?

Anand Menon

Short Cuts: Under New Management

Rory Scothorne

Out-Tissoted

Bridget Alsdorf

Sarah Moss

Blake Morrison

Poem: ‘Country Music’

Ange Mlinko

On the Trail of Garibaldi

Tim Parks

Art Lessons

Peter Campbell

You’ll like it when you get there

Tom Crewe

Early Kermode

Stefan Collini

‘The Vanishing Half’

Joanna Biggs

At the Movies: ‘The Truth’

Michael Wood

The Suitcase: Part Two

Frances Stonor Saunders

Poem: ‘Siri U’

Jorie Graham

Diary: Getting into Esports

John Lanchester

On Chesil BeachRaymond Friel
Close
Close
Vol. 25 No. 10 · 22 May 2003
Poem

On Chesil Beach

Raymond Friel

412 words

I must begin with these stones as the world began.
Hugh MacDiarmid

From the car park, the duckboard angles up
like a runway to the overcast distance –
but soon you’re back on solid earth,
or rather shingle which yields and crunches underfoot.
Behind you, the canter of the downs
has come to an abrupt and nervous halt –
as if it knows its own limitations.
The rolling landscape of copse and village
gives way to the elemental –
monotonous sea and muggy, misted sky.
In between, this shelf of shingle, miles long tombolo –
hinge between us and the implacable forces.
At this point, it is humped and dips steeply into the sea –
innumerable cretaceous pebbles, flint and chert,
quartz and chalcedony worn by waves to rounded handfuls,
small in the palm, ideal for the chuck and catch of five stones;
rarer still porphyry and magnetite, lodestone, not known here
but spilled perhaps from the luckless hull of Dorothea,
beached broadside in 1914.
The camber of shingle is almost sand-coloured, taupe;
the sea harder to pin down – dull as ditchwater
until sunlight opens up a slick of silvery blue.
The waves don’t get much of a run at the shore –
folding, hushed, at the last moment,
but still they make inroads and still reluctantly
withdraw, drawing a painful sigh from the stones in the dragback.
Some life has – taken hold in this shifting ground –
sea campion and sand couch, sea pea and bindweed.
The rest is migrant, like the Canada geese which winter over,
or ourselves, so unsuited to this ground of slip and pull,
here for a few hours to gather into a thought,
if we will, the impressions of the day, or what is exposed
by this sudden distance from the parochial.
Behind us, high on its slope and solitary, the church of St Catherine’s,
like the last thought of God to cling to the land.
Here all is forgiven, or forgotten: the dragon’s teeth
bared to meet the invader, the tilted pill-box,
the white sails in line across the horizon,
the monster, half fish, half giant, the annals record
off this shore for centuries. The shore-anglers cast
and pull in their lines, landing bass and mackerel.
Heads thrown back in are washed ashore, gleaming.
Gulls swoop and grab and veer off with their catch.
We are made creatures on this bank of time,
longing to hear the voice of the creator –
I have counted every hair on your head.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences