Elvers

Up the Severn River from Lent to Eastertide
Millions and millions of slithy elvers glide,
Millions, billions of glassy bright
Little wormy fish,
Chewed-string fish,
Slithery dithery fish,
In the dead of night.

Up the gleaming river miles and miles along
Lanterns burn yellow: old joke and song
Echo as fishermen dip down a slight
Wide frail net,
Gauzy white net,
Strong long net
In the water bright.

From the Severn river at daybreak come
Hundreds of happy fishermen home
With bags full of elvers: perhaps that's why
We all love lent,
Lean mean Lent,
Fishy old Lent,
When the elvers fry.

When elvers fry for breakfast with egg chopped small
And bacon from the side that's hung upon the wall.
When the dish is on the table how the children shout
'O, what funny fish,
Wormy squirmy fish,
Weeny white fish,
Our mother's dishing out!'

Eels have a flavour (and a baddish one) of oil,
'When we have shuffled down their mortal coil,
What dreams may come!' what horrid nightmares neigh,
Gallop or squat,
Trample or trot,
Vanishing not
Till break of day!

'Never start nothing' says the motto in our pub:
'It might lead to summat': that's (as Shakespeare said) the rub!
So I'm not going to tell you, anyway not yet,
If the elvers are eels,
White baby eels,
Tiny shiny eels,
Caught with a net -

Or another quite separate wriggly kind of grub,
For I've seen more fights over that outside a pub
Than ever you saw at Barton Fair when Joe
The brown gipsy man,
The tawny gipsy man,
The tipsy gipsy man,
Tried to smash up the show.

But anyway, good people, you may search the river over
Before a breakfast tastier or cheaper you discover
Than elvers, and if all the year the elver season lasted
I wouldn't mind a bit,
I wouldn't care a bit,
Not a little tiny bit,
How long I fasted.


From F W Harvey: Selected Poems (Douglas McLean Publishing, 2011), © The Estate of F W Harvey 2011, used by permission of the F W Harvey Society for the Estate of the author, and the publishers. Recording © The Estate of F W Harvey 2011, used by permission of Douglas McLean Publishing and the BBC.

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