Poem: Bridges

Rochester Bridge

The Roman Road walk is now done, but I still have poems I haven’t yet shared! On Tuesday I wandered around Rochester with the Guildhall‘s Jeremy Clarke, and we considered the question of where a Roman bridge may have stood. Rochester Bridge Trust has more details here.

On Wednesday I had a great long walk and talk with the University of Kent’s Cath Hoggarth, whose PhD is going to be all about bridges. I hadn’t really thought too much about bridges before, but learned so much from Cath. We take them for granted now, but they are still often great feats of engineerings – even more so in Roman times.

As well as being practical things – as displays of military strength, by aiding travel and communication, by expanding the possibilities of empire – bridges are highly symbolic. They link two previously unconnected places and people; they defy nature’s or the gods’ natural river-borders; they show of a civilisation’s reach and power. The Romans would throw votive offerings in rivers, and if a city was threatened the last resort would be to burn down the bridge to stop invaders.

Thinking about all this, I wrote this multiple-part poem about bridges. I’m still in residence at Canterbury Roman Museum, and more will be happening on the project soon. In the meantime, enjoy the poem!

I: Physical

We must get from here
to there
but this water runs between us
and progress.

Bring me that wood
and I will show you a wonder
a way to bend the world
to our will.

We are masters of this domain
no river will stop us
Nature’s forcefully flung weapons
no match for our ingenuity.

Build me a bridge.

II: Empire

Build me a bridge
and I will show you an empire
an idea realised
in support pole and path.

Two places connected
people colliding
buildings established
communities founded.

The world changed
by idea and application
brute force and discipline
helmets and spear tips gleaming in the sun.

The glory of Rome.

III – Power and Propaganda

The glory of Rome
hangs from the bridge
a banner rustling in the breeze
proclaiming all is well.

The statue of the Emperor
gazes at you
as you approach
his smile says: I am your lord.

Thoughts of rebellion die
in front of this display of power
confronted by superior force
they are useless.

Throw them away.

IV – River Offerings

Throw them away
having said your prayer
watch where they lands in the water
hope for a good sign.

The river has it now
your humble offerings cast away
the votive to your god
it’s sacred course set.

We may bridge this territory
but it’s a consecrated place
as is the whole world
respect the gods who watch over you.

Pray they won’t abandon you.

V – Battles

Pray they won’t abandon you
those you call your brothers
in arms, in battle
as you face your enemy.

On the other bank
he stands
readying his weapons
preparing the charge.

Hope it doesn’t come down to this:
the tactic of last resort
a desperate measure
but the commander’s cry goes up:

Tear down this bridge.

– Dan