Dancing Dust

Poems by Mollie Caird (1922-2000)

The Army and the avocets
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This is where East Anglia moves flat to the bleak North Sea,
Among long cold sands and marram grass, land-slip and gale-warped tree;
White boat sails meander through barley fields, blown on the hidden canal,
And dead black windmills hump on the dykes under their ivy pall.
Here the tall hushing reeds shift under the tumbled Suffolk sky,
And spacious-windowed flinty churches ride on the meadows high,
While tiny tawny bearded-tits flash orange and quick and away
Where the great slow-beating harrier wings the wide marsh for her prey.
The light-buoys and lighthouses wink, blink, and will not sleep
Till the forsaken pebbly villages crumble into the deep.

This is where the Engineers are gouging a new lagoon,
Tilting their boisterous bulldozers under the rising moon
So the long-legged sickle-billed avocets may find a place to nest,
Flash pied across gun-metal water, or stand in elegant rest.
O happy prognostication!   When the world’s wars shall cease
The soldiers will wait upon the birds in the white-winged years of peace.


In the late 1960s, the Royal Engineers excavated a new lagoon on Havergate Island to improve the nesting and feeding grounds of the only avocet colony in Great Britain.

Oxford Times, 5 November 1965  (revised with lines 9 and 10 added for Dancing Dust)
The Dancing Dust and other poems, 1983