Vessels

by Hannah Swingler

A poem to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the Birmingham to Wednesbury stretch of canal.

Strong in the arm and bright in the head,
          bold hearted
                                 An intrepid ideology that changed the nation.
People flocked to the flight of locks,
                                paid for by local men, 
                                           pioneered by engineers with plans of prosperity
Carved out by working hands that held this land
          close to their hearts 
                         and above their heads 
                                                  for all to see.

The arteries of this landscape
            (and the reason we boomed)
Brought soot to faces,                      smog to the air
           and a swell to our cities:
           Canals were king
                       Their reign long and honourable.

                                       Yet time’s current of change is a strong one
                      And     landscapes     shift to fit.
Decades of hardship meant 
                                  staying
                                               adrift
Miles of veins were lost to turned heads
               Became tips and        slipped into    neglect. 

                             They have lived longer than the reason we first needed them;
             Doesn’t mean the desire for their survival dried up.
Thank generational ingenuity of local people, 
These channels are busy thriving, 
                                             Still surviving:
             The Renaissance in full flow.
The Crow is proof that the journey is greater
Though this summit still wins gold.  

So we owe it to the heart of this land
And to the hands that formed it
              To take a moment to hear its pulse
                          Composed in this world’s commotion: 
                                    A life that’s long with steady beat,
                                                 Vessels pumping still. 

 

 

 ‘The Crow’ is the local name for the flight of locks leading to the highest point of Birmingham’s canal network.