Part of an old map of Somerset with drawings of mythical creatures associated with rivers and other features Show image info

Part of the map of Somerset and Wiltshire engraved by William Hole to illustrate ‘Poly-Olbion’ the epic poem by Michael Drayton 1612 [ref. 0596]

The Water Wych


Written in 2019 by a member of a creative writing class, through a collaboration between Bath Record Office and the St. John’s Foundation.

A poem inspired by the illustrated map of Somerset and Wiltshire engraved by William Hole to illustrate ‘Poly-Olbion’ the epic poem by Michael Drayton, 1612.

She wears long tresses of weed entwined with flowers and fronds
Long enough to reach her feet
Otherwise she is naked
She emerges slowly through the night’s blue/green mist and steps towards the edge of the river bank
The people see her and start to shout
Holding their flamed torches high. 

She plunges in
The ropes of flowers stream from her head like a cape
The water is deep and biting cold
Her body is rigid for a moment like a fly in amber
Her nerves and sinews briefly frozen like sharp ice shards
Her teeth chit-chatter in a voice of their own as she floats down the river
Her skin starts to blush red and tingle as she gets used to the icy water. 

The river whirls and eddies over rocks
Some water is trapped in whirlpools destined to make patterns forever
Now the current is getting stronger and she half floats, half swims as the undertow pulls her along
The river is getting faster and faster
The people are trying to keep up with it
Crashing and falling in the undergrowth
Dropping their torches
Trying to run in time to it
Trying to keep up with the flow.

The weeds caress her skin as she is carried along
Silky smooth and velvety
Faster now
The river widens as it rushes her along
The people become distant as she stays in the middle
Her floral rope is tangled and torn
Pretty flowers in pieces float past her
Damaged and destroyed

She is near now and hears the booming roaring sound
Water spray is thrown up as the full moon emerges in the sky
It is now that it must happen to bless the harvest
As she is sucked towards the precipice the people throw their flamed torches at her
Some blazing, fizzing and whomping as they hit the water
She opens her arms, catches the torches and dives down into the waterfall.

Francesca Knight, September 2019