Caught by the River

Through: a poem by Holly Corfield Carr

16th November 2018

From Holly’s pocketbook Subsong, published by the National Trust in partnership with Falmouth University and illustrated with cyanotypes by Antonia Glücksman.

The following extract uses the word ‘dream’ according to the obsolete Middle English sense of a song, a noise or clamour, the sound of speech.

I make my way down to Starehole Bay where the mica schist cliffs are worrying a hundred rainwatering shifty little stare holes which watch me glint glint glint down towards the sea.

Properly, a dream should be a rowdy thrill of a thing, all raucous glaucous and sun, but my alighting inside the hollows of the rock is a thrill, still, though smaller.

For years a ‘thrill’ had been rattling free from a ‘through’ to mean a gap or a hole or a socket so that a dreamer’s head might be pierced with seven lively thrills — give or take an ear, an eye, a nostril, a mouth, a nostril, an eye, an ear — each letting some part of the dream of the body pass in and out of itself.

What we now call a nostril, for instance, was once a nose-thrill so there’s something to believe when you sneeze.

At this same time, ears were also called dream-thrills or dream-holes and we had ears put everywhere so we could listen for the drumroll of an approaching dream or so we could let a busy dreaming escape like steam from a building.

Dream-holes were drilled into the belfries to spray a dream of Sundays over the fields.

Eventually we forgot how to listen and we looked up at these odd punctures and asked somebody to close all the windows in here. We lifted sheets of mica and stained glass into place. The air was luminous and warm. We slept for a time.

When we woke we needed a word to describe the gaudy bruising of our sleeping. We tried out a different word — draugr — for the bright ghost who perforates us each night. It was an accident that we pronounced it ‘dream’, remembering instead the way the sun had been staining the floor so very pink and sore while, somewhere in the background, we were all of us singing.

Where once a dream was full and loud as an owl, now each night we must wait mute for a private sun to see by and we look and look under our lids and, though our mouths hang open, you can barely hear the tune except, embarrassingly enough, in times of poor sleep on the train or the bus or our backs, when some of the old noise leaks out.


Holly reads at our next event, which takes place at The Social, London, Monday 19 November. More info/tickets here.