“I do not know much about gods, but I think that the river Is a strong brown god, sullen untamed and intractable.”
T.S. Eliot, The Dry Salvages (1941)
This short quotation is from the beginning of the rolling and wonderful Dry Salvages, in the Four Quartets. It is said Eliot was inspired to write it by some rocks with a beacon on the northeast coast of America at Cape Ann, Massachusetts.
Poet Clare Crossman welcomes you
The river Mel is a classic English chalk stream that I have walked in all weathers for the last 18 years. In winter it can indeed be sullen, especially when just below the A10 when it becomes full of crisp packets, plastic bottles and other things dumped from cars. It is only the painstaking work of the River Mel Restoration volunteers who have slowly removed this from the river there.
The river links my village, Meldreth with the next, Melbourn, and is a well-worn route crossing fields and woodlands used by dog walkers, runners, and children on their way to Melbourn village college. As Eliot says later in his poem: ‘The river is within us, the sea is all about us’ and for me, the river Mel close to my home has always been a consolation, a healing force, and a surprise in that it is different every day. Consequently, it inspired a short sequence of poems. These are published in my last collection The Blue Hour (Shoestring Press 2017).
Even though short and hidden, the river Mel has its own beauty and as Eric Schumacher wrote many years ago, ‘small is beautiful’. There are vistas, meanders, pools and changes. Different depths of water, reeds, grebes, coots, the heron that lives there and the white egret which has taken up residence as well as the dart of some kingfishers. According to Tristran Gooley’s anthropological book How to Read Water, it is a healthy river and its flow shows no sluggishness even at low water. It passes under small stone bridges, through weirs and creates ponds at mills. It was clearly once lived around, in and on and was at the centre of village life. Just about wide enough to float a canoe, it can be swung across … and it joins the river Rhee (a tributary of the Cam) just outside Meldreth.
Waterlight – film, project and website
My poems, inspired by the Mel, have in turn inspired Waterlight — a film, a community project and this website, all about the river. It includes interviews with people who have lived close to the river all their lives, children’s poetry, music and new poems from local writers.
The film is being made by my friend, locally-based filmmaker James Murray White, and the project is expertly supported by another friend, Bruce Huett.
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