Tuesday, 11 June 2013

And never home came she.

I was walking the Wales Coast Path along the Dee Estuary in brilliant weather last Thursday evening. Floodbanks on either side of the estuary had reduced the amount of floodland grazing in the 20th Century, but there was enough saltland marsh beside the coast path to remind me of a poem by Charles Kingsley.
Local tradition says that poor, ill fated Mary was "off Flint", and herded her cows on the temporary and treacherous salt-marsh of the Dee, which was free grazing. This was hazardous because of tides and deep mud and the ever present danger of cattle raiders coming across from the Wirral.
Charles Kingsley was inspired by the stories of real lives lost. He was famous for writing The Water Babies, and was canon of Chester Cathedral, and a keen naturalist. He also led popular day trips into Wales - a celebrity tour guide to be sure.

The Sands of Dee


Charles Kingsley

"O Mary, go and call the cattle home,
And call the cattle home,
And call the cattle home
Across the sands of Dee";
The western wind was wild and dank with foam,
And all alone went she.

The western tide crept up along the sand,
And o'er and o'er the sand,
And round and round the sand,
As far as eye could see.
The rolling mist came down and hid the land:
And never home came she.

"Oh! is it weed, or fish, or floating hair--
A tress of golden hair,
A drowned maiden's hair
Above the nets at sea?
Was never salmon yet that shone so fair
Among the stakes on Dee."

They rowed her in across the rolling foam,
The cruel crawling foam,
The cruel hungry foam,
To her grave beside the sea:
But still the boatmen hear her call the cattle home
Across the sands of Dee.

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