On national poetry day we feature our first of three poems about our project.

This poem is by Nancy Campbell, and was written as part of her Canal Laureate 2018/19.


The Ballard of the Twaite Shad

The tides are strong and surge for miles
up Severn’s race each spring.
In the longest stream in the British Isles
an epic migration begins.
From salty sea to pebbled source
the twaite shad run the Severn’s course. .

They splash and chase in the shallows
and when they’ve splashed, they spawn.
The tiny eggs sink to the gravel
and as soon as they hatch, they’re gone.
The fry drift down from their nursery
to feed on shrimp in the estuary.

They grow into elegant herring
with spots on their rainbow scales.
But shad are not known for their daring –
they opt for the safety of shoals.
From estuary to shallow source
they run the river’s epic course.

In summer drought and winter spate
this feast from Severn’s springs
was preserved for foreign potentates
and plated up to English kings.
Fresh and fat from the salty sea
a famous local delicacy.

When fighting troops laid down their guns
by Severn’s tranquil tides
the fishers’ nets were full enough
to satisfy both sides.
From pebbled source to salty sea
a route as old as history.

Fish scales and bones enriched this soil
and fishes’ flesh made people strong.
The river a wish connecting souls,
the shad a continual silver song.

Then seven weirs were built so trows
could travel to the Black Country
with coal and iron – a slow cargo
for a fast growing industry.
From stony source to estuary
the shad no longer ran as free.

The shad are shy. They hesitate
before the first weir wall.
A lone shad braves the narrow grate
built in the water’s fall…
None make it to the river’s source –
reluctantly they change their course.

Within three years the shad were rare
and people soon forgot their fate
till science urged a river stair
composed of seven fine fish gates.
From pebbled source to salty sea
the shad will once again run free.

The Severn’s wealth will be restored
and fish and folk will get along.
The river’s reach opens to all,
the shad a welcoming silver song.


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