Lines on the Landscape: poets

Wembury, Salcombe, Sharpham, Dittisham, River Dart

From : Valerie Belsey

The listings of poets associated with our area, and sometimes writing about it, would be indeed long.


Let’s begin with a writer who was best known as a novelist, John Galsworthy, author of many plays and novels, including ‘The Forsyte Saga.’ He had relatives in Wembury and would spend some time with them in the summer. Here is an extract from a poem imagining how St. Werburgh’s church feels about itself:

‘Here stand I

Buttressed over the sea!

Time and sky

Take no toll from me.


Shall I fall,

Leave my flock of graves?

Not for all

Your rebelling waves!

I stand fast –

Let the waters cry!

Here I last

To Eternity!’


Here is John Masefield's introduction, followed by three of the verses from his poem written prophetically in 1903. With thanks to The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of John Masefield for permission to quote this work.

'The village of Hall Sands, between Dartmouth and Start Point, in South Devonshire, is imminently threatened by the sea. Its natural breakwater of sand and shingle was removed a few months ago by a Government contractor, and since its removal the sea has encroached upon the foreshore, and is now undermining some of the houses.

The land on which the village stands is beginning to slip and settle. The sea takes a heavy toll of earth at each high tide. The fishermen are in danger of utter ruin, and the first gale from the south-east is likely to sweep the village from sight.'

Hall Sands

The moon is bright on Devon Sands,

The pale moon brings the tide,

The cold green water’s greedy hands

Are clutching far and wide

Where the brown nets are dried.

The beams are creaking, and the walls

Are cracking, while the sea

Lips landward steadily and galls

Those huts of brick and tree

Which men’s homes used to be.

Soon, when the wind is setting cold

And sharp from the south-east,

The great salt water running bold

Will give the fish a feast,

And the town will have ceased

But that its wretched ruins then –

Though sunken utterly –

Will show how the brute greed of men

Helps feed the greedy sea.

Masefield also wrote Christmas 1903, set in Salcombe which has the feel of Tennyson’s famous ‘Crossing the Bar’ about it, a poem also associated with Salcombe.

Jack Yeats made many sketch notebooks during his residence in the Gara valley between 1897-1913. He provided the illustrations for Masefield’s famous Cargoes poem.

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Lines on the Landscape: poets

Photo: oaks cast shadows over the River Dart (Valerie Belsey for AONB)

Salcombe shipyards

Anne Born is well known as a local historian and poet. She has written about the now, largely hidden, industrial archaeology of this area particularly the many slate quarries now grassed over. Her moving poetry sequence entitled The Quarry can be found in 'Transactions of the Devonshire Association 124', December 1992.

Here is an extract from Anne Born's Salcombe Shipyards [from 'A Centuary Back - Salcombe Sjpyards.' Dartington Poetry Press 1]

..Ships grew so large

that one bowsprit stretched quite across

the street, in through a bedroom window, and

cold comfort for that sleeper caused:

Ships and families were born, grew, lived and died

together then, nourishing each other.

at night in the Union or Victoria Arms

talk was of cargo, voyages, drowning, disasters



River Dart

Alice Oswald was the winner of the T.S.Eliot prize in 1997 for her extended poem Dart.

Drawing upon local memories Ms Oswald draws a picture of the ever changing life in and around the river:

two sisters Mrs Allen and Mrs Fletcher

used to row plums across from Dittisham


woodman working on your own                         waternymph

knocking the long shadow down

and all day long the river’s eyes

peep and pry among the trees

when the lithe water turns                                  Dart is old Devonian

and its tongue flatters the ferns                          for oak

do you speak this kind of sound

whirpool whisking round?


Contemporary poets in the AONB

Many more contemporary poets live or work in the area, from Matt Harvey’s humorous writings to the darker works of John Daniel. The poetry group known as The Moor Poets do stray down our way occasionally and their works are easy to trace. Other poets here are Jan Spiro, Nick Cottis, Pat Kitto, Candy Neubert , Kevin Pyne and Brian Patten, to mention but a few.


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