The Mersey and the Irwell

Bessie Rayner Parkes

A century since, the Mersey flowed
Unburdened to the sea;
In the blue air no smoky cloud
Hung over wood and lea,
Where the old church with the fretted tower
Had a hamlet round its knee.

And all along the eastern way
The sheep fed on the track;
The grass grew quietly all the day,
Only the rooks were black;
And the pedlar frightened the lambs at play
With his knapsack on his back.

Where blended Irk and Irwell streamed
While Britons pitched the tent,
Where legionary helmets gleamed,
And Norman bows were bent,
An ancient shrine was once esteemed
Where pilgrims daily went.

A century since, the pedlar still
Somewhat of this might know,
Might see the weekly markets fill
And the people ebb and flow
Beneath St. Mary's on the hill
A hundred years ago.

Since then a vast and filmy veil
Is o'er the landscape drawn,
Through which the sunset hues look pale,
And grey the roseate dawn;
And the fair face of hill and dale
Is apt to seem forlorn.

Smoke, rising from a thousand fires,
Hides all that past from view;
Vainly the prophet's heart aspires,
It hides the future too;
And the England of our slow-paced sires
Is thought upon by few.

Yet man lives not by bread alone--
How shall he live by gold?
The answer comes in a sudden moan
Of sickness, hunger, and cold;
And lo! the seed of a new life sown
In the ruins of the old!

The human heart, which seemed so dead,
Wakes with a sudden start;
To right and left we hear it said,
'Nay; 'tis a noble heart,'
And the angels whisper overhead,
'There's a new shrine in the mart!'

And though it be long since daisies grew
Where Irk and Irwell flow,
If human love springs up anew,
And angels come and go,
What matters it that the skies were blue
A hundred years ago?    

St Mary's Church is the original parish church of Liverpool and dates back to at least the 11th Century, when it was mentioned in the Domesday Book.