Under a northern sky in a quiet
Beyond the far-out line of water a buoy sounds,
Rocking idly as the big ships pass.
The sad tolling of the great bell rings
Down the years and back in time
To a far southern shore in the high summer:
Towering cliffs and an iron ladder down to the hot beach
And running over the bright morning tide-line;
Great scallop-shells set on the ribbed sands;
A perfect starfish sprawling by a pool.
And all day in and out of the sea in the warm sun.
At night, above the cliffs, up through the long
Summer grass as the shadows grew longer.
And always, always calling from
A bell tolling, sounding, echoing,
Unutterably sad and distant;
Measuring without pattern the days and nights,
Touching my dreams with uncertain melancholy:
Telling the end of youth and summer.
Now my child plays as the big ships slip out to sea,
And the silent tide creeps unnoticed over the flat bay.
Still the bell swings slowly.
Nothing has changed.
Always rising above the river and
the flat coastal plains,
It crouches massively on the
Riding above a townscape of still unfilled bomb sites
Where black bin-bags clog the back alleys
And spray paint scrawls drab walls and boarded, gaping windows.
Wherever you are, there is no escaping it:
An uncompromising gothic statement,
Soaring ramparts of towering sandstone,
Slab piled on slab, solid and unrelieved.
Embattled fortress, a proclamation of unfashionable power,
Reared from its foundations in an age of faith,
Built with merchants' money, the tithings of an Empire's grubby trade,
Unfolding down the years bay by echoing bay,
Craning up laboriously over a century of slow growth,
It rests now, dwarfing the glass and concrete capsule
Of its mushroomed Metropolitan neighbour
Perching at the other end of a street called Hope.
Inside, the sheer scale subdues
you, challenging belief;
In this reverberating emptiness what detail there is lost.
There are vast vistas here, but few secrets -
A cavernous, uncluttered presence, but without mystery;
A museum of masonry erected out of its time, yet without a history.
Its aisles, tall tunnelled corridors tiled with stone,
Shelter few effigies and prompt fewer prayers,
No saints throng its shadows: there are no echoes yet from the consecrated past.
In this monumental and hollow height
Even the choirs trained voices shiver into high thin echoes;
Disembodied amplified prayers boom and scatter through space.
Only the organ's mighty thunderings
Can shake the founding stone beneath your feet,
Shatter the vacuumed acreage of chill and empty air
And for a time fill up this tall, cold, vaulted temple
With a triumphant certainty of splendid sound.
Outside, beyond the bright,
incongruous new glass,
Even this trumpeting apocalypse of power
Is lost in the indifferent city's roar.
Beyond the terraced walls, the patrolled and guarded gates,
The scarred streets still await their resurrection.
Unremarkable, the safe suburban
Proclaim an ordinary, bordered life:
Cars squat on pavements. In the gathered gloom
Curtains shut out the dark or, parted, show
Blue flickering screens and tanks of circling fish.
Cats sidle past. The street lamps reassure
As, through each pool of warm and orange light,
The muffled poet's promenading feet
Clatter about their planned perambulation.
Beyond the comfort zone the waste ground beckons:
A reclaimed tip, an unkempt urban park
Between canal and suburb's spreading sprawl.
Its low expanse is black beneath the sky,
Threaded by hidden paths, necklaced by one lit way.
Reckless of fear, the bard's unbroken stride
Traces this ribboned corridor of light
And on to darkness.
Now, walking slowly in the sudden
He turns and sees, above the huddled houses left behind,
Strung rosaries of sodium beading the streets
Linking the school's distant and floodlit tower
And further yet, lit patchwork matchbox slabs
Where high-rise cages hum with late office life
And, beyond all these, the distant haloed bulk
Of the cathedral. From the imagined docks
Gaunt silhouetted cranes part the dark sky:
Decked with a shapely, clouded, rising moon
And the emerging pattern of pincushioned stars.
One tracks steadily in from the sunk sea,
Winkling and droning homeward (so to Speke).
But underfoot the gravel crunches
And puddles gleam a dull metallic grey
And the lit gate is rather far away.
A sudden snuffling is a questing dog
Pursuing night scents in the harsh dead growth:
Its owner shuffles past without a word.
Something unseen slides through the stubbled grass;
A night bird mews its weird and lonely call.
Forsaking further inspiration
The versifier scuttles swiftly back
To the marked sanctuary of the solid streets,
With never a backward glance to where
Behind his ringing echoing sounding feet
The shadowed undulating silent field
Folds in its secret under hurrying clouds.
Desirous of a decent view for
In fantasy now I float free into the third dimension,
Rising slowly above the serried ranks
To hover, bird's-eyed in the middle air.
No longer depressed by the gravity of the situation,
Powered by my inflated personality,
I swoop weightless over pulpit and organ-pipes,
Pigeon-like, drop in on episcopally mitred heads,
Dispassionately noting receding priestly hairlines.
So that's what happens. I see it all at last.
Drifting higher, I perceive all this pomp and clerical circumstance
As merely a shifting multi-coloured carpet on a distant floor
From which thin sounds waver up towards the over-arching vault.
The indifferent walls of this
football fortress rise above streets
Strewn with wet litter and festooned with tributes.
Here graffiti is transformed into homage
On walls where old enemies have inscribed the end of ancient hostilities.
Now even 'Mancs' felt-tip their sorrow on red brick:
Scrawled scripture of reconciliation and hope.
And the line shuffles on endlessly,
Round new corners, down narrow boarded streets in the dull morning,
To pause briefly before the iron gates.
Here is the first centre of the
The verses on cards, ink running down torn paper,
The sentiments misspelt and trite yet tragically heartfelt.
The simple outpourings of thousands for whom football is their faith.
To these Shanks waits at the gates of heaven to receive his own;
A tribal hero set in their eyes only a little lower than the angels.
Here believers have honoured the trampled dead
With long-cherished tokens, given up in their memory
That here at least they may never walk alone.
But we are borne forward on the tide at last
Into the holiest of holies.
No pictures could prepare for
The stadium lies open, its hallowed turf transformed and diminished.
The stands rise silently behind and to each side;
But below the far terraces the goal is drowned in a wave of living flowers
And flowers, fashioned into all manner of shapes
And in a host of bright and beautiful colours
Have flooded almost half of the field.
As the lines move slowly on over
the laid tarpaulin
Their offerings are taken and laid down in new rows
On the living altar of this cathedral of flowers.
It is silent here, but for subdued murmurings.
The Kop has never been so still.
Its terraces are hung with scarves and trophies, flags and banners,
Peopled with the memories of its dead.
There are no songs today, and few
They sit on scattered seats to think or pray
Or just to be a part of what is happening here:
The lying in state of a way of life.
And the crowds are marshalled relentlessly on and out
Into the untidy shuttered Sunday streets.
Tonight the gates will close upon a week of history
And soon life will flow back.
But today, for faithful and agnostic alike, this is the place to be.
At this focal point of pilgrimage all belong together
And uncertainty is stilled.
Outside there will be questions to
ask, hard answers to be given
And truths to be faced in the end.
But despite doubts and misgivings, on this day it is surely fitting to be here.
This unforgettable place, sanctified now by remembered suffering
Unites all who have obeyed their instinct to follow a million others.
Tomorrow will be another day
But today belongs to Liverpool and its dead.