Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Steve Whitaker
Literary Editor
1:00 AM 27th April 2024

Poem Of The Week - Children's Special: Orcadia By Rachel Burrows


We are on the beach before breakfast,
Sol in his pyjamas, with sleep in his eyes.

The water is too cold, even for toes.

We can hear the whales in the bay beyond us,
see their spouts on the enormous expanse
of chalk-blue stillness.

There is no one else here.
We have the world to ourselves.
We gaze out over the freezing sand,
where black stones play chequers with white shells.
And my sister says, ‘Let’s make an orca,
like the one we saw yesterday.’
And we know, at once, it will be perfect.
Even Mum and Dad join in
as we scour the tideline.
And black stone, by white shell,
our orca is born.

And Elliot says it needs a home -
like a kingdom for whales.
So we hunt for treasure
and return with a hoard
of driftwood and oarweed, charcoal and clay
and we plait and we weave and we shape and we carve
and we create a kingdom,
a whale-palace,
a haven.

And as the sun creeps higher
our tummies start to rumble.
And at nine o’clock prompt,
the whale-watching boats
start up their fuggy engines.

And the sounds of the whales
in the bay

Image by Camille Minouflet on Unsplash
Image by Camille Minouflet on Unsplash
Nothing comes close to a pristine morning on the shore, especially when experienced through the synaesthesial filter of a child’s imagination. And if Rachel Burrows’ rich poem of immediacy, of the sights, sounds and tangibles of the tideline, is measured in dynamic metaphors it is because her child/narrator is striving for the best means to describe her joy and wonder at the freshness of the landscape she is witnessing, as if for the first time.

The inventory of objects and sea-borne curios is as inexhaustible as a child’s thirst for experience, for knowledge. In amongst the oceanic hyperbole of ‘whale-palace’ and ‘treasures’ of ‘driftwood and oarweed’, the compulsion to shape this new world drives the child to excesses of verbs, as she engages, creatively, with the realm of the sea:

‘and we plait and we weave and we shape and we carve
and we create a kingdom’

Perhaps a sense of comfort and security obtains in this Illyrian tableau: ‘Orcadia’ plays gently on the paradisal connotation of a natural ‘arcadia’ as it also invokes a kingdom of whales. At least until the cranking into life of the ‘fuggy engines’, that break the morning’s reverie and usher in the humdrum day.

‘Orcadia’ has been selected to appear in a forthcoming anthology of children’s poetry to be published by Dirigible Balloon/Yorkshire Times Publishing.

The poem is copyrighted (©) Rachel Burrows 2024.

For more on the Dirigible Balloon click here