Steve Rowland writes:
This poem has at its centre an allusion to the doomed love of Shakespeare's Hamlet and Ophelia. The original inspiration was a walk along the bank of the Wyre at Garstang in May. We passed by a section of the river near Monkey Island that reminded me vividly of Millais' depiction of drowning Ophelia. He used Hogsmill River in Surrey as his backdrop but the combination of colours, flora, light and the flow of the water in Garstang that beautiful spring morning evoked a mental image of the famous pre-Raphaelite painting. [There was no body floating in the Wyre that day!]
Also participating in the workshop was a very knowledgeable Garstang Walk Leader who explained to us that in the 18th and 19th centuries, when the farming families of the north-west were finding it hard to eke a living from the land, many decided in desperation to sell up and set sail for America in the hope of starting a better life. Their arduous sea voyages commenced from the banks of the Wyre.
With the idea of Ophelia already in mind, I turned the doomed love of Prince Hamlet and his Ophelia into an "everyday story of country-folk", transposed the scene from regal Denmark to rural Lancashire, turned Hamlet's banishment from Elsinore into an emigration across the Atlantic - and this admittedly rather sad story of leaving, longing and loss fell into place.
Garstang’s OpheliaIn a twisting of the tumbling Wyre
inspirited by April showers,
between steep banks of cicely
smelling of aniseed and myrrh,
lies swollen Ophelia tangled in willow,
the river her bed, its ripples her pillow.
Romance brought low by poverty,
her melancholy prince, sad suitor,
She wove forget-me-nots into a lover’s favour,
and cried hot tears to see him go,
quick with the child he’d never know.
Swallows skim now across her liquid grave,
wild ramson bows its head above the flow.
Her honeyed tresses look almost alive
in this rolling rinse of rusty peat water,
swirling in eddies - as if she’s trying to break free
to follow her Hamlet down Wyre to the sea.