Taken by Dark River

She exacts a heavy toll for her bounty.
Languid deceiver, her tempting waters beckon
offering cool respite from the midsummer sun, but artful
she conceals the suffocating murk prowling beneath.

I once heard tell of a girl, no reckless drunkard
stumbling into a damp sepulchre
nor rue and rosemary-adorned Ophelia
but an unstained life cut short in a selfless act.

Her bankside frolics interrupted
by the screams of a playmate whose tiny foot
was stuck fast in a sunken willow root, she dived
and Dark River’s pitiless eddies sucked her under.

Police were called to the scene
but too late. All that remained
was to drag her, a lifeless doll
staring, unmoved, to the nettled bank.

When they left, the gathering gloom
was heralding the close of the day
and a deathly calm descended
balm for the restless child spirit.

Dark River, indifferent to the tragedy
idled her drowsy way across the plain
and only a barn owl, shrieking twilight phantom
seemed to observe the obsequies.

A smothering mist descended
and a heron passed overhead
lumbering a smoke and silver trail
from shallows to roosting ash.


Go down to Dark River today
and you’ll see no trace
of that halcyon July afternoon
shattered by such unspeakable horror.

Above the weir the swans still glide
and kingfishers still flash across the flood.
Her hero soul is at play now with the ghosts
of salmon, long since gone to the sea.



The name of the River Dove, which flows from its source on Axe Edge Moor in the Peak District to its confluence with the Trent in Staffordshire, is a modern derivation of the Ancient Briton “dubh”, meaning black or dark.


4 thoughts on “Taken by Dark River

  1. Evocative stuff and that confluence is a wild place still, especially when in flood. Higher up, the Swarbourne enters the Trent without a murmur, almost unnoticed. The mood of the poem reminds me of a song by a great English singer- songwriter, Steve Knightley. The song is call ‘Cruel River’. It, too, is full of malignant threat and pent-up energy.


  2. Thanks for the kind comment, David.

    I know where the Dove meets the Trent down by Egginton. My late mother was in a nursing home in Etwall for many years.

    Also, a great school friend of mine lived by one of the flooded gravel pits in Hilton, scene of another tragic drowning, I’m sorry to say. His father, a brilliant inventor, went through the ice while skating one morning and couldn’t haul himself out before the cold overcame him.

    As regards the Swarbourn, indeed, as so beautifully described here by none other than your good self.


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