Half a century on, approached in imagination
(mining buried treasure in the mind) it’s
like waking up after a long sleep, looking
out on a bright morning, wiping
away a film of slumber from eyes dazzled
by the dawn. It takes time for time
to dissolve now and resolve again then
to a statue on a patch of green between
busy roads. Hugh Myddleton constructs
the New River running somewhere here
bringing, gradient to gradient, sweet water
through the channels of my childhood
to London town and all the rivers
of Wales running through recent memory.
Even then the river was a conduit
for feelings that ran just beyond perception
touching my life with knowledge of its presence
but not quite in the light. Light after all
just glittered on its surface while in the dark
its waters ran deeper that I could fathom
behind those streets and through those parks
that beckon, as dreams of things once vivid
but now lost. What I know, and knew
even then is that I walked by streams
that flowed out of the busy life of cities,
that just through there or behind that ivied wall
somewhere was a gateway I avoided
which voided the silver waters down to Hades.
Irrigations, flowings from the source;
Is the essential river in its upper reaches
Or where it floods, deep and wide?
This New River (though no new river) was
my becoming and now my past which
flows to meet me. Tributaries and connecting
streams run through, across and contrary. Chadwell
springs mixed with waters from the Lee.
Severn and Wye trickle from peaty pools,
meander from the same mountain, running
along borders through towns, fields and woods
until worlds dissolve as fresh water tastes salt.
Rheidol too streams from this source and thickens
in its shorter course with lead from Myddleton’s mines.
From any gateway to the Underworld we may emerge
through any gateway out again. Following
the river into a culvert under a hill I exhale
on a path winding like Tywi through other hills;
In this garden time is marked along the path by rocks
from each age of the world while a hedge of flowers
winds along its other side to a fountain
(a switch across a synapse into lost time).
Water spirals through a cross-section of an ammonite
and drains into a lake. The Lady of the Lake
appears and disappears. Myddfai, Middleton Hall,
a tower on a hill and a glass dome like the hills –
What dissolves resolves again: places, shapes,
substances in suspension suspire as substantial form.
It was in that tower that the new journey began,
began quietly, climbing steps that turned again
and again into air gathering solidity to anchor
light to darkness as a world formed around me
and rivers flowed in my veins as well as across
the molecules of my eyes. Looking out
over the lost garden which time would rediscover
I turned back for a time of contemplation, waiting
for the flux to gather the configured forms,
trace the connecting streams, leets, seepages;
shafts running unseen below dividing rock bringing
light to the converging flood as these rivulets merge:
a New River breaks free from its containing channel
flows through space, time, imagination.
Hugh Myddleton’s river poured into wooden pipes
tapped by London houses; his journey then
back to Wales where he tapped the veins of ore
and for every ton of lead a grain of precious silver
base metal transformed as only those with craft and lore
canne knowe. Planted in a remoate place
and countrey, they tunnel into wooded slopes
these mines, and like his river find a familiar
calling from a darkness deep within.
At the entrance to one adit: galena
and the glisten of fool’s gold (as they call it)
iron pyrites to those that would be wise
but transformations there are here, slippages
between worlds, fooles and alchymicall wittes betwyntimes.
So I changed (Hugh Myddleton had Thomas
Middleton to compose a metrical speech
at his river’s inauguration) – like Antonio
I changed : Saturn’s plumb line stirring the depths
(swinging the lead?) transforming echoes,
glitter of moonlight on the waters not yet
uttered into being; anomie and heavy
idleness become wantonness, life in the full
zest of discovery of itself. No matter
it’s foolish to revel in the golden glow of
a new dawn. What is signified and what
signifies are always, and yet never, arbitrary.
I distil silver from the leaden waters of that river,
gold from pyrites for a store of treasure.
This valley and others spoiled by mines, yet wild
still with the scars that mar them. Myddleton’s
workings were shallow, though deeper than memory
could recall. Rust runs across discarded rock now
as iron and steel oxidize back into earth and water.
Cwmsymlog, Cwmerfin, Cwmystwyth – valleys at
journey’s end with rivers running down to the sea
as I run a slow course now against the backdrop
of these hills. What spark is it that recalls
Myddleton’s mild river by these torrents through the rocks?
There are moments when one place echoes another,
when each remembered location in time steps out of isolation
and flows with one purpose in a rush like these rocky streams
though everything is as still as Myddleton’s barely moving river.
Hugh Myddleton (1560-1631), son of a governor of Denbigh Castle, worked in London for Elizabeth I and was later knighted by James I for bring clean water into the city along the channel of his ‘New River’ from springs near Hertford. Drinking water is still brought into London along the gradual incline he constructed.
He eventually returned to Wales to open several lead mines in Cardiganshire and developed the technique of obtaining small amounts of silver from the lead ore.
The poem is to some extent also a personal autobiography
First published in SCINTILLA magazine.