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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
England: Vols. I–IV. 1876–79.


The Mersey and the Irwell

By Bessie Rayner Parkes (1829–1925)

  • Suggested by a very curious and interesting model of the little town of Liverpool, as it existed in the earlier part of the last century.

  • A CENTURY since the Mersey flowed

    Unburdened to the sea;

    In the blue air no smoky cloud

    Hung over wood and lea,

    Where the old church with the fretted tower

    Had a hamlet round its knee.

    And all along the eastern way

    The sheep fed on the track;

    The grass grew quietly all the day,—

    Only the rooks were black;

    And the pedler frightened the lambs at play

    With his knapsack on his back.

    Where blended Irk and Irwell streamed

    While Britons pitched the tent,

    Where legionary helmets gleamed,

    And Norman bows were bent,

    An ancient shrine was once esteemed

    Where pilgrims daily went.

    A century since the pedler still

    Somewhat of this might know,—

    Might see the weekly markets fill

    And the people ebb and flow

    Beneath St. Mary’s on the hill

    A hundred years ago.

    Since then a vast and filmy veil

    Is o’er the landscape drawn,

    Through which the sunset hues look pale,

    And gray the roseate dawn;

    And the fair face of hill and dale

    Is apt to seem forlorn.

    Smoke, rising from a thousand fires,

    Hides all that passed from view;

    Vainly the prophet’s heart aspires,—

    It hides the future too;

    And the England of our slow-paced sires

    Is thought upon by few.

    Yet man lives not by bread alone,—

    How shall he live by gold?

    The answer comes in a sudden moan

    Of sickness, hunger, and cold;

    And, lo! the seed of a new life sown

    In the ruins of the old!

    The human heart, which seemed so dead,

    Wakes with a sudden start;

    To right and left we hear it said,

    “Nay; ’t is a noble heart,”

    And the angels whisper overhead,

    “There ’s a new shrine in the mart!”

    And though it be long since daisies grew

    Where Irk and Irwell flow,

    If human love springs up anew,

    And angels come and go,

    What matters it that the skies were blue

    A hundred years ago?