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Poem introduction

There seems to be a great deal of water in my work - and I am a Pisces.

The Water Carrier

The Water Carrier

Twice daily I carried water from the spring,
Morning before leaving for school, and evening;
Balanced as a fulcrum between two buckets.

A bramble rough path ran to the river
Where you stepped carefully across slime-topped stones,
With corners abraded as bleakly white as bones.

At the widening pool (for washing and cattle)
Minute fish flickered as you dipped,
Circling to fill, with rust-tinged water.

The second or enamel bucket was for spring water
Which, after racing through a rushy meadow,
Came bubbling in a broken drain-pipe,

Corroded wafer thin with rust.
It ran so pure and cold, it fell
Like manacles of ice on the wrists.

You stood until the bucket brimmed
Inhaling the musty smell of unpicked berries,
That heavy greenness fostered by water.

Recovering the scene, I had hoped to stylize it,
Like the portrait of an Egyptian water-carrier:
But pause, entranced by slight but memoried life.

I sometimes come to take the water there,
Not as return or refuge, but some pure thing,
Some living source, half-imagined and half-real,

Pulses in the fictive water that I feel.

from Collected Poems (Gallery Press, 1995) © John Montague 1995, used by permission of the author and The Gallery Press.


John Montague

John Montague Reading from his Poems

1Like Dolmens Round my Childhood, the Old People

2Woodtown Manor

3The Trout

4All Legendary Obstacles

5That Room

6The Same Gesture

7Omagh Hospital

8The Water Carrier

9A Bright Day

10A Grafted Tongue


12Courtyard in Winter

13No Music

14Last of the House

15Herbert Street Revisited

16Grave Song

17Last Journey

18A Response to Omagh


20There are Days

20The Family Piano



Books by John Montague