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Poems from the river

Updated: Mar 25, 2023

In this post we see the river through the experience of Tony Davis, an Oxfordshire artist, poet and fisherman. Tony was inspired to write the poem Auguries of iciness after seeing the 'baubles' created by willow ends dipping in the icy Cherwell in the very cold spell in December. We also publish his moving poetic response to the poisoning of our rivers in Stop All the Locks.

Auguries of iciness*

To see the World all dewy-paned

And Heaven in an hour

By Cherwell’s bank with hoar frost stained

Glass bauble for a flower

Willow’s loom, a lattice made

Above the Water’s skin

Woven threads in brightened shade

A forming jewel within

Far below the chub and trout

in wonderment they gaze

With wordless voice: ‘Look’ they shout

Swim water-bound, amaz’d

The Tit, a Moorhen, and Old Jack

All flap in raptured dream

As all the brightest orbs astack

Above the Cherwell stream

Otter, stoat, and muntjac tell

The words of Winter’s song

Woodpecker plays transparent bell

As river flows along

It’s warmer now, the baubles hang

Reflecting light and sound

Each drip of ice a lasting pang

Of memory to ground

© 2022 Tony Davis

* Like many continually inspired by the multi-faceted creative and visionary explorations of William Blake - I live by this quote... I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

Ice bauble photographs: Kath Fotheringham


"Like many people I've become incandescent at the liberties taken in our name, with our money, paid regularly to the UK's water companies. This poem is the first verbal shot across the bows of their boats, cruising nonchalantly through mess of their own making in our rivers."

Stop All the Locks – River Thames *

Stop all the locks, and stem the River’s flow

Prevent the frogs from larking in what they cannot know

Silence all the warblers, choke the roach and bream

Fill it all with sewage now, the tributary and stream

Restless birds are circling, with nowhere safe to feed

All of this to satisfy your Corporation’s greed

Nature now is watching you, as she slowly dies

The water vole and curlew, can you hear their cries?

Stash the boat and fishing rod, the water wings, canoe

This water, once a haven, not safe, for me, for you

The children cannot paddle here, dip water with their toes

And in the silent shallows, water boatman no longer rows

The reed mace, and the rushes here, now wither far from green

As browny sludge and algal blooms now dominate the stream A dragonfly’s mistaken what’s sticking out of mud

And lays her precious tiny eggs upon a cotton bud

The shallowness of gravel once filled with fishes' eggs

Now lifeless and particulate, a mess of floating dregs

The food chain has been broken, the caddis fly’s no more

All that’s left is greyness, we lay this at your door

Though every household pays you, to manage, clean and fix

Our water, waste and outflows, yet still you play your tricks

Financial orchestration, the substance of receipts

To move our funds to dividends and manage your deceipts

So who are your investors? Where is their domicile?

Do they live next door to us within this Sceptr’d Isle?

We think that so unlikely, more that they’re all off-shore,

Extracting too much profit, to leave our Rivers poor

It’s time for some accountancy, perhaps an AGM?

To give us explanations, from where decisions stem

Let’s meet your truest shareholders, and have them take the floor

Let them ask the questions, they number by the score

Up first, the water-crowfoot, her flowers like a mat

The most diverse of fishes enjoyed her habitat

“I need the freshest water, why can’t you keep it clean?”

The bed where all my roots should lie – the dirtiest I’ve seen”

The mayfly and the caddis, the flatworm, midge, and mite

The water shrimp and damsel, are here to join the fight

Invertebrate ecology, it needs the clean, the fresh

Not soaked with fecal coliforms, bad-filtered through a mesh

Let’s not forget the creatures, of feathers and of beak

They all deserve protection from persistence of your leaks

Heron, Coot, and Mallard, the names of just a few

How can they breed and multiply amongst this rancid stew?

Wind whispers in the willows, about a corporate thief

And Ratty, Toad and Badger now share collective grief

Whilst Otter’s gone a-hunting for non-existent fish,

Mole no longer burrows, and reeds no longer swish

We can’t splash about in shallows, E. Coli for a friend

You claim all this is ‘Legal’, the ‘Rules’ for you to bend

Wild swimming isn’t sensible, because to our dismay

We float along with pathogens, Hepatitis C or A

Dendritic networked freshness should feed into our Thames

Map-drawn in lines of blueness, a thick, wet thread of friends:

“The Cole, the Leach and Windrush, the Evenlode and Pang

The Cherwell, Thame and Kennet” the gathered naiads sang

Each join and add their offerings, fresh sky-fall and the rest

The Mole, the Rythe and Hogsmill, should be amongst the best

The Wandle now meanders, and Tyburn’s underground,

Why ruin this potential when richness can abound?

But rivers are not wanted now; so squander every one

Pack away the willow trees, dismantle all the fun

Pour away the chalk streams, scrape water meadows clean

For nothing shows that’s pleasant now, in fabled lands of green

The limestone and the chalk stream, the trout that gasp for air

Every single life form, deserves your greatest care

So time to issue notice, however much you howl

We’re side by side with Nature, and standing cheek by jowl

© 2022 Tony Davis

* I wanted some of the sadness and loss evoked by Auden, and the rhythm of his Funeral Blues. Stop all the Locks is much longer because there’s so much to say and do.

Nature photography: Darrin Roles

See more about Tony's poems and artwork at


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