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“Ducks” (1943) by Clifford Dyment.

I was lucky enough that my English Lit. Teacher, working in a North Hull boys Catholic School realised that he’d be onto a loser teaching us all that Classical Poetry pony, and selected Cumbrian poet Clifford Dyment as one of our set texts, 1984 being the first year where the teacher had such autonomy. Well done Mr. Wilson (even if you were a member of the SDP, fell asleep in a lesson and we all crept out, and slagged off my handwriting whilst offering no advice about what to do about it).


Dyment made an impression on me due to the simple but interesting use of language and his poem about Windscale (“A canker itch between the toes”) is still etched on my brain even though I haven’t read it in 25 years, and am unable to find it online or a the Library.


I find poetry a bit intimidating, probably because I worry that I won’t “get” it, and find reading it a bit out of my comfort zone.


But being 41 and in Carl Jung’s Third Stage of Life, I fulfil the stereotype of only trying this stuff at this part of my existance.


This one I remember and could find online.


The poet is imagining a lazy life as a duck only to have his idyll rudely interrupted by “two boys intending war and slaughter.


Given the date of the poem it’s obvious what Dyment is getting at.


I love the whimsy of the thing, but then with the reality check at the end. Somehow this seems quintessentially Northern and I imagine fellow Lakesman Melvyn Bragg reading this little gem.   




The ducks are clacking by the brook;
The sun is hot, but cool their feathers look.

Ducks do not plan ambitious schemes:
Their commerce is in weeds and streams.
They ask, what’s life but sparkle and spray
In a lazy brook on a lazy day?

I think, if I were five feet something shorter,
I might have been a duck upon the water,
A portly duck, with a shining bill
Yellow and spruce as a daffodil.

To me, possessed of an idle mind,
That seems a life of the perfect kind.

Two bicycles plunge into the water –
Two boys intending war and slaughter.

The brook is shallow here. There is a noise
Of water, and terror and reckless boys.

The stream turns brown with mud. It rocks and heaves,
They waddle and cackle in consternation,
While the boys are leaping with jubilation,
And I can see that man and duck
Are both cursed by a dancing luck.


About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.


One thought on ““Ducks” (1943) by Clifford Dyment.

  1. The Windscale poem was in fact by fellow Lakesman Norman Nicholson and goes like this;The toadstool towers infest the shore:Stink-horns that propagate and spore Wherever the wind blows.Scafell looks down from the bracken band,And sees hell in a grain of sand, And feels the canker itch between his toes.This is a land where dirt is clean,And poison pasture, quick and green, And Storm sky, bright and bare;Where sewers flow with milk, and meatIs carved up for the fire to eat, And children suffocate in God’s fresh air.

    Posted by Dermot | November 2, 2009, 5:06 pm

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