A late example of the picturesque, composed
With dynamite and labour,
William Armstrong’s sylvan waterfall
Roars like the ghost of a dreadnought.
This is where the thalassocracy retired.
First light, a week before the Somme centenary
Re-mourns the Tyneside Scots and Irish
Fed into the mincer with the rest,
Two stubborn lads of forty-odd stand-to,
Knee-deep in the curdled flow, their tabs all gone,
Last bottles held aloft. Just someone dare.
Just some cunt fuckin dare, that’s all I’m saying.
I came here for an hour to escape
The massacre. And what you fuckin lookin at?
Humiliation, pain, an undiminished gift
For missing every point that history makes.
So I just wave. Down where the water slows,
A spectral twist of oil suspends itself.
I see one take a box of England’s Glory
To light the sick river. They stand their ground.
Sean O’Brien is a multi-award-winning poet and critic who has published more than a dozen collections of poetry, essays and criticism. His latest collection The Beautiful Librarians was published by Picador in 2015.