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One of my life dreams is to live on a narrowboat for a year, along the canals of England…right after living in Venice through all the seasons. I find it amusing that both dreams involve canals…and I’ve always suspected that both settings would inspire great writing.

The Venice dream is easy to indulge in, but the narrowboat one a bit harder to capture…there isn’t quite as much information out there about this lifestyle. As a result, my husband and I devour any and all shows, books, interviews we can find about life on narrowboats and the English canals. Recently we discovered, Great Canal Journeys, which follows the actors, Timothy West and Prunella Scales, as they make four canal journeys to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary.

The discovery of this show has, in turn, led to a writerly discovery. In episode two, which we watched this evening, West and Scales visit the birthplace of the great English poet, Ted Hughes, and share some of his poetry about the English canals. I immediately ran to my room for my Norton Anthology to learn more. The two poems that caught my attention in particular were “The Long Tunnel Ceiling,” whose narrator stands beneath a canal bridge, and, “Stubbing Wharfe,” which memorializes an actual canal side pub. The latter begins…

Between the canal and the river
We sat in the gummy dark bar.
Winter night rain. The black humped bridge and its cobbles
Sweating black, under lamps of drizzling yellow.
And the hillsides going straight up the high woods,
Massed with tangled wintry wet, and the moorland
Almost closing above us.

Sounds heavenly to me…but I love dismal weather and being closed in upon by dark and winter, woods and hills. Stumbling onto Hughes’ canal poetry this evening seems like one of those signs…in this case, a sign that (whether it ever happens or not) living on a narrowboat along the canals of England is a worthy, fitting dream for a writer.

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