Heron


little veniceOne of the joys of life, when I lived in North Kensington in the 1980s, was to be near the Grand Union Canal. I would usually join the path close to Kensal Green cemetery, and walk under the bridge by Portobello Dock and continue on down to Westbourne Park. Occasionally I would push on as far as Little Venice (pictured) in Paddington, where the waterway becomes the Regent Canal. For those who don’t know it, Little Venice is an utterly charming oasis of tranquility: here you will see all the prettiest, best-kept barges, many of them teeming with fresh flowers.

The heron mentioned in The Cross (the story posted earlier today) is the same bird that features in the poem below. I saw the heron sitting in the undergrowth on the north side of the canal, that is, the side opposite the towpath, close to the cemetery wall. What struck me most at the time was how rare it is to see ageing wildlife. I know that cats when they are about to die often run away or go into hiding so that they can end their days discreetly and in dignity. On the day in question, the sadness of this bird’s fate really touched me and I felt that the least I could do was to make a space for it in my poetry. In later years, I must confess, I have also worried that the heron might have been an omen. I hope not!


Heronheron

That heron I saw
        on the canal bank
half-hidden in the bushes
        standing in nettles,
all confidence gone
        looking old and bedraggled,
it’s long slender legs
        begrimed, its feathers
clogged with oil
        doubtless released
from a careless barge.
        And yet
you don’t expect
        to see a heron
looking old
        and defeated,
once vigorous wings
        as though clipped.
It barely raised
        its head
as I passed,
        its opaque eyes
half-heartedly scanning
        the opaque,
stagnant waters
        for some
lithe living form
        to devour.
A crestfallen heron
        as though lost
as though displaced
        as though homeless,
a heron fallen
        on hard times
in old age,
        a creature of
beauty trashed
        by time and
circumstance.

None of these things
        is to be expected
in a heron.

John Lyons
1995

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