Wednesday 11 November 2015

Wroth Silver 2015: The Road of Time

Here's a road along a ridge that was here before there were wheels to make it rutted
Older than the legions that marched it; a cattle drovers' way guarded by mighty oaks;
Arden's most ancient guardians have watched over other travellers
Traders with packs or laded carts; cars, lorries, all kinds of goods & transport,
& the movement of people, the river of humanity never ceasing.

Here's the land, the Knightlow Hundred through which the old road passes,
Rolling ridges bounding a central plain; farms, cross roads & cottages
Hedge lines  & earthy mound boundaries, villages with greens & fords, steeples & cenotaphs
Speak of the famous kind of history made by dukes & barons, councils & corporations
But all who work here, or take this road to seek or make their fortunes also make their mark.

Look at the ploughed field where the birds flock, for us that will be a green,
The road bridge a testament to its hi-viz engineers & their forbears,
The tall ash tree standard a steeple, let us  dedicate it to young St Kenelm,
The stone gatepost a monument to those who raised, maintained & guarded it:
The land itself is history, not just some story told of the great & maybe good.

& you can feel the depth of that history, the depth the plough has cut
The depth the ditch digger dug, the depth of the field that is time, the journey that is time;
A story, a cycle, a labour of some days; generations of people at work on the land:
Farm hands & wooders, diggers & drovers, like flocks of birds, come & then gone;
That small tree in the hedge became a giant; let us dedicate it to our ancestors.

& we are many & some of us from far away, still we walk the same road
Gather in the same field, on the same mound before dawn at Martinmas
To honour those who paid their due, made their mark, did their work; built  homes,
Roads, bridges, steeples, cenotaphs & gateposts; & we toast the same long-serving monarch
Whatever name we give to ourselves, wherever we come from.

For a short time each year we bear witness to our state of belonging to the land
To the land that feeds & waters us (& long may it) & those who have guarded it,
Maintained & defended it from harm; stood forth for the dispossessed landsman & protected travellers;
We stand together held in the dark by ties we cannot see, not just ancient obligations
A celebration of the field of time, the road of time; the land & the people of the land.

This is the second year that I have been honoured to be commissioned to write & perform my work at the Wroth Silver Ceremony. Wroth Silver is recorded in the Domesday Book as an ongoing English ceremony of  taxation & is probably the longest running continuous ceremony in England, if not Britain. It ceased to be obligatory in 1800 & has been kept alive by local people ever since. I read my poem to a large gathering of local people in the Queen's Head in Bretford for the Wroth Silver Breakfast. 

A group of people gather before dawn around an ancient stone on a grassy mound in a small field by a major road in Warwickshire. This lot, in 1930, look a bit posh. Did they put on their best clothes for the occasion?